The Mideastwire Blog

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

Criticism of Crisis Group’s Latest Report on Lebanon & Syria/Eleventh Tunis Exchange June 17-24, Registration Now Open/Mideastwire 13 Year Anniversary

An update about our recent activities at

TABLET MAGAZINE: The Next Israel-Hezbollah War Won’t Be an Accident

Nicholas Noe argues that a recent report from Crisis Group incorrectly views the increasing possibility of an Israel-“Resistance Axis” war through the lens of a “miscalculation” or an “error.” The reality is far more alarming and requires more immediate, radical approaches by Europe, the US as well as the different regional powers.

HUFFINGTON POST: The Dangers Of Divining Iranian Intentions, Without Iranians

AL-JAZEERA INSIDE STORY: How will Tunisia recover from its economic woes?

The Eleventh Tunis Exchange June 17-24

The Eleventh Tunis Exchange Conference June 17-24 will engage participants from around the world in a multifaceted discussion of some of the key issues facing Tunisia and the wider region. Participants will have the opportunity to meet, listen and engage leading social, political, religious and economic leaders from across the spectrum in Tunisia. For last Summer’s Tunis Exchange schedule as well as more information, visit

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Written by nickbiddlenoe

February 24, 2018 at 3:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Nicholas Noe in Tablet on February 21: Criticism of the “Miscalculation” thesis concerning impending Israel-“Resistance Axis” War

My piece in Tablet came out yesterday, February 21. I used the latest Crisis Group report as a peg to criticize what I view as an incorrect and even dangerous framework(s) to understand the fast approaching regional war, one that will be destructive far beyond the last seven terrible years of the Syria War (a war which I argued against accelerating in May 2011 and again in the NYT in February 2012 here and here). In one sense, the Tablet piece is an extension of my earlier criticism of ICG’s September 2015 report that called for US military intervention.

A key claim I made is that: “There is no “bloody nose,” “mowing the grass,” or “Little Pines” (as in the original “limited” 1982 Israeli invasion plan for Lebanon) strategy when it comes to a “pre-emptive” attack by Israel that would adequately degrade its enemies’ power in Lebanon. Since the combatants appear to be quite cognizant of this, by building up their military power and readying for a strike in Lebanon the main sides are deliberately moving further and further down a path they all say publicly they “don’t want,” but which they know will lead to all out war.

I also argued yesterday that there is, “a second problem with the “miscalculation” formula posed by ICG and so many others: A tendency to diminish the irrational, ideological drivers that are arguably at the heart of the current march towards war. As ICG sees it, “today, none of the parties can soberly contemplate the prospect of a conflict that would be uncontrolled, unprecedented and unscripted.” But what if several of the parties are, in fact, “soberly” planning for and taking steps that will very likely lead to all-out war, as described above, even as they ready their constituencies to blame the other side for forcing a “war of no choice”? And what if the different sides even desire a climatic confrontation for moral, religious or even long-term strategic reasons and are willing to take an ends-justifies-the-means approach when it comes to the morality of their own actions? Indeed, what if some of the sides think they could actually weather such a war as their enemies likely fade away? These are all crucial questions to examine for anyone invested in peace-building since they further raise the urgency of the matter at hand whilst also precipitating a cry for more radical actions by the actors involved and the international community in general.”

Finally, I pointed out – in regards to the first point above – ICG contradicted itself in at least one key area of the report. At first, it noted Israel’s redline of: “No high-precision missile factories. This stricture applies to both Lebanon and Syria. Israel believes that after Hizbollah froze its attempt to establish such capability in Lebanon, Iran has continued to pursue this capacity in Syria.52”

But later, as I also noted in the piece, ICG said in passing that: “According to Israeli officials, Hizbollah for a time froze those efforts in light of Israeli threats,40 though they argue that since late 2017, Iran-backed efforts to build such workshops shifted to Syria, where Israel is reported to have struck two, and since then, in January 2018, back to Lebanon again.41″ ICG also even quoted the no-uncertain-terms letter by the IDF and the PM these past weeks that said clearly (i.e. not with an air of “perhaps”): “Iran resumes building missile plants in Lebanon, Israeli army warns in rare article in Arab media”, Haaretz, 30 January 2018. Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted that Israel “will not agree to …[this] development … and will act according to need”. See”

As I wrote, the later admission inexplicably produces no policy recommendation or added alarm by ICG.

I also pointed out in the piece what I have long called “Nasrallah’s Peace Plan:” 

“By incessantly building up its military power and securing both Syria and Lebanon (not to mention an even wider strategic depth beyond both), Hezbollah has said that it knows it is steadily degrading Israel’s vital QME. In the party’s view, this is a combined moral, religious, Arab and national duty. If this “deterrence equation,” as Nasrallah puts it, leads to a terrible war—one that the Party justifies on the basis of both rational considerations as well as a deep “craving”—then so be it. Ultimately, it will be Israel’s fault since, as Nasrallah has also explained on numerous occasions, the Party and its allies have said that they are presenting the Israelis with a “peace” option, albeit one that the current Israeli body politic will not possibly accept. Accede to a diminished balance of power with the “Resistance Axis,” Nasrallah has suggested, while radically scaling back your negotiating demands with the Palestinians and the Arab states so you can reduce your overall threat via a final settlement, or choose to pre-emptively attack us.

This is, in effect, the “peace plan” that Nasrallah has been deftly “encouraging” Arab states—and Israel, at least rhetorically—to pursue for more than a decade as a way to stave off the climactic war he says his party both “craves” and doesn’t “want”:

How can these [Arab] states secure a just and honorable settlement between quotes,” he once asked? ”Does the Israeli recognize them in the first place? I tell you: The Israelis today view the Resistance and the resistance men in Lebanon with great respect. As for all those lowly ones, they are not worth anything. Even the Arab [Peace Plan] calls for a stand. It calls for men and power. If you can’t use power, you can at least threaten with it. The talk that we are weak will not do. … Realistic political behavior [says:] first convince the Israelis of the need to have a just and comprehensive peace before asking the resistance movement to lay down its arms… Even those who have opted for a settlement have a need for this resistance. Indeed, we want them [the Arab states] to benefit from the resistance.

Of course, Nasrallah and Hezbollah know that there is little chance of the Israelis changing the hardware and software of their negotiating position on the moribund peace process, much less accepting a greatly strengthened “Resistance Axis” in the process (whether they should or not is a different matter). So, as Hezbollah and its allies continue to pursue a military buildup, rather than a pause or a reduction in their strength, all the parties knowingly move forward to war, albeit with Nasrallah in the quite advantageous position of forcing Israel to decide if it will be the one to attack first.”


Written by nickbiddlenoe

February 22, 2018 at 11:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The prosecution just rested in Hariri trial; judges could end the case even without defense presentation

After 13 years of observing this case, a major landmark in a process that sadly lost its original purpose and support from so many:

The Prosecution completes the presentation of evidence in the Ayyash et al. case

Leidschendam, 7 February 2018 – Today, the Prosecutor completed the presentation of evidence in the Ayyash et al. before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) marking the conclusion of the prosecution case.

Since the start of the Prosecution case, the Prosecution has presented evidence from over 260 individual witnesses and about 2470 exhibits in documentary form.

The next step in the proceedings will be in accordance with Rule 167 of the STL Rules of Procedure and Evidence entitled “Judgement of Acquittal at the Close of the Prosecution Case”. In accordance with that rule, the judges will issue such a judgement on any count if they find that there is no evidence capable of supporting a conviction on that count, even in the absence of a Defence case.

On 20 and 21 February, the Trial Chamber will hear the Rule 167 submissions of the Defence, any response from the Prosecution and any reply from the Defence. A judgement of acquittal or a decision dismissing the application will be delivered in court as soon as practicable thereafter.

Written by nickbiddlenoe

February 7, 2018 at 7:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Turkish invasion may be instigating global influx of Kurds from Lebanon, EU & Turkey to fight in Afrin

Yet another by-product of the Syrian war which never should have started. Partially translated today by our

“…A Turkish news agency indicated that Turkey’s Kurds are infiltrating the Turkish-Syrian borders to join the Kurdish People’s Protection army with numbers amounting to dozens of thousands; adding that there had been 30,000 Kurdish fighter in and around the city of Afrin and they have now been inflated to reach 70,000 fighters equipped with weapons and missiles. And despite the constant Turkish jets’ raids on the bases of the Kurdish People’s Protection army, the grottos, tunnels and underground areas are located 15 meters below the ground level where the bombs and rockets of the Turkish jets cannot reach them…

“Moreover, the available pieces of information indicate that around 5,000 Kurds have left Lebanon and headed to the city of Afrin to fight with the Kurdish People’s Protection army while thousands of Kurds are also flowing from Europe mainly Norway, Germany, and Sweden to Iraq and then from the Baghdad Airport to Syria in order to join the Kurdish People’s Protection army and the city of Afrin. Most of these are Kurdish fighters who have fought the Turkish army for the past 25 years. The Kurdish People’s Protection army had managed to take 115 Turkish troops’ hostages while the Turkish army took 360 hostages from the Kurdish People’s Protection army…”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

February 7, 2018 at 7:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

TRANSLATED: Report in Ad-Diyyar details major break between Jordan and Saudi Arabia

Although Ayyoub’s Ad-Diyyar is certainly against MBS, perhaps there are worthwhile nuggets to be further confirmed. Translated in part here and in full by our (

“…ISIL and other takfiri forces had once been crossing from Jordan to Saudi Arabia, but the powerful Jordanian army positioned its troops on the borders with Saudi Arabia and prevented the infiltration of the takfiris. However, the King of Jordan, Abdullah II, pulled out the Jordanian army from the entire borders with Saudi Arabia and left the Saudi army entirely in charge. As for the takfiris, the King of Jordan is certain that the Jordanian intelligence services and the Jordanian army can crush the takfiri organizations in Jordan. However, the Jordanian army will no longer be protecting the borders with Saudi Arabia…”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

February 5, 2018 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

TRANSLATED: Al-Rai al-Youm asks if new, anti-Israeli front is forming in South Lebanon?

Translated in part here and in full in our Daily Briefing (via “…We are not sure about the extent of truth in Lieberman’s information in this regard. However, the one certain part is that the coordination between the Hamas movement and the leadership of the Lebanese Hezbollah is at its pinnacle these days at the level of the military field and the information exchange… The media leaks in the past few days speak of an unprecedented coordination between Hezbollah and the Hamas movement via the “communication officer,” Mr. Saleh al-Arouri, who is the vice president of the movement’s politburo and who is now the most powerful military figure and the closest to Sayed Hassan Nasrallah and Iran, which he visited on several instances in the past two years and where he was warmly welcomed by the officials there, mainly the commanders of the Revolutionary Guards…”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

January 29, 2018 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Carnegie’s Diwan channel leaves out crucial background on Jennifer Cafarella and the Institute for Study of War

This short interview with ISW’s Jennifer Cafarella by Michael Young provides a small window into at least three problems of journalism and analysis that continue to haunt the public discourse on Middle East policy.

  1. When introducing analysts and their tanks, the unknowing reader needs to understand how both are positioned in terms of politics, policy and financing –  beyond what said analyst and tank post as their public profiles.

This mistake comes up again and again and is extremely damaging to the public discourse. If someone works for an institute funded in part or whole by a government, by the Koch brothers, Iraq War architects The Kagans (ISW and AEI), a Gulf Prince, a labor union, close associates of Hillary Clinton, a peace group, a Russian-financed shop etc., then in all such cases a line or two that situates the political and financial constraints of the organization is crucial for the reader to know (it really only takes a sentence or two). Furthermore, if someone works for ISW and AEI, as Cafarella does, and routinely pens policy reports and makes public statements calling for a full-throated US invasion of Syria, as but one example from Cafarella’s library, then it is essential that the interviewer flags this with at least one line. The reader may completely agree with Cafarella’s analysis – and be fully convinced of the need to surge US soldiers into Syria for a full-blown “counter-insurgency” campaign alongside no-fly zones and a potential war with Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Russia, as Cafarella has wagered – but the interviewer has the responsibility to inform the reader that this is a major policy position staked out by the analyst so that the ideas can be better understood within the clear overall framework/agenda that has been plainly stated as such. Young, unfortunately, goes with a copy paste version of the ISW-provided bio.

2. Journalists and interviewers need to critically evaluate whether an analyst is professionally qualified to speak on a particular subject, especially military matters since this field obviously involves life or death.

I have written extensively on this subject when it comes to Crisis Group and others:

When NGOs Call For Military Intervention in Syria: The Case of the International Crisis Group:

The Dangers Of Divining Iranian Intentions, Without Iranians:

According to her official bio, “Ms. Cafarella received her B.A. from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in Global Studies with a focus on the Middle East. She is proficient in Arabic.” This is fine, but she is pronouncing sometimes on strictly military matters and has co-authored policy recommendations calling for extensive military intervention in the Middle East. Her Diwan interview centers on military matters. As far as this reader can tell, it seems she has no military training or experience, although she has spoken at conferences to some military professionals.

3. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

A criticism I made briefly on Twitter to Young and Heiko Wimmen involves Cafarella’s closing statement which is a classic neo-con, pro-interventionist mind trick (but one that always works quite well on the Hill): “… Israel will most likely continue to manage this escalation in the near term. Israeli airstrikes will continue to target Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies in Syria in order to disrupt supply lines, deny high-end transfers of weapons, and deter Iran from building up its presence along the Golan Heights beyond a level that Israel views as tolerable. Israel’s campaign will likely succeed in the near term, because Iran is unlikely to pursue a direct escalation with Israel under current conditions. [But] Israel needs U.S. help to reduce Iran’s strength in Syria…”

On the one hand Cafarella and other leading neo-cons in DC want to allow Israel maximum freedom to conduct military operations abroad – and therefore routinely argue that the danger of such operations getting out of control is limited (the usual heuristic device is to say all will be fine in the “near term”, just let the Israelis “pre-emptively” attack) – while on the other hand, they raise the alarm that the US must intervene because “Israel needs U.S. help to reduce Iran’s strength in Syria” in the medium and long-term.

Unfortunately, Young (interviewing on behalf of an endowment expressly dedicated to peace and peace-building) does not challenge Cafarella on her construction, which means the reader never gets an answer to the crucial question of why US intervention will be necessary later if the current Israeli strategy is in fact so effective and safe in limiting Iran et al. (this particular argument is used to soothe any Congressional and Executive branch fears that Israel’s “targeted,” “pre-emptive” strikes might suddenly spark a wider conflict)? What exactly might change in the medium and longer terms to justify Cafarella’s grand assertion that, “Israel needs U.S. help to reduce Iran’s strength in Syria?” And this is all without asking whether US interests should be defined in a 1:1 relationship with Israeli interests.

Of course, Cafarella, her Kagan co-authors, ISW and AEI are all major proponents in DC of pushing a violent, US-led “roll back” strategy against Iran, Assad and their allies. In this effort, they generally want Israel to have full freedom of action but they really want the US to get involved militarily alongside Israel as soon as possible. As such, they boomerang inside their unresolved contradiction: Israel’s “pre-emptive” actions are both successful and containable (according to these sides) and should therefore be supported by the US, but for some reason, “later on,” this contention will no longer hold and the US will have to invade.

Sadly, although Cafarella concludes by complaining that “the U.S. is not currently pursuing a strategy to contain and reduce the overall strength of Iran’s proxy network in Syria and its infiltration into regime structures,” 2018 may very well bring her wish of a “roll back” campaign by a newly invigorated Trump administration – a move that will surely plunge the Middle East and beyond into an even deeper level of violence, hopelessness and state-society breakdown than has already obtained since the 2003 invasion of Iraq (which Michael Young supported).

Just as I wrote in May 2011 when the Syria revolts were on the verge of a widespread militarization, we are about to see if this particular approach favored by ISW, AEI and so many others actually works in practice. If the past 15 years are any indication, the results will indeed again be exceedingly deadly.


Written by nickbiddlenoe

January 28, 2018 at 2:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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