The Mideastwire Blog

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

Would an Israeli “Safe Zone” in Southern Syria change the strategic balance of terror?

Great reporting by Nour Samaha, below. A crucial article that wraps up where we are at on a number of trends that have been developing for some time. The bottom line, it seems to me, is that the race is on for Israel to push a strategy of assisting Hezbollah/Iran/Assad’s enemies in the Golan area in order to create a “buffer zone” – and for the push back to gather pace.

The core strategic problem is that this is not 1975 or 1982 (and lets remember that successive Israeli invasions designed to support such buffer zones ended in disasters, eventually). Technology and tactics have changed radically such that there is far less of a need for Hezbollah et al. to be literally on the border/Occupied Golan – indeed, the core strategic asset for the party, rocket and airborne technology, is no longer constrained much by distance.

Of course there are advantages, but there are also many disadvantages (perhaps the “softening” of Nusra we are now seeing will make it more acceptable for Israel to openly coordinate such a “safe zone” in the future with Nusra and other rebel groups). The core question then is: Will an Israeli “safe zone” be worth all the risk, given that it will likely do little – if it succeeds – to shift the balance of power between Israel and its enemies?

From her piece:
“…Kamal Al-Labwani, a Syrian opposition figure and strong advocate of the safe zone in southern Syria, has visited officials in Israel over the last two years. In his last visit in February, he noted a distinct change in tone within the Israeli decision-making circle.

“I was surprised that, at the Knesset, they said OK for the safe zone, and that if we asked for it, they are ready to help,” Labwani told Al-Monitor, adding that he met with several top-level officials and foreign diplomats to push forward the idea of safe zone.

Accordingly, in a meeting with the US ambassador to Israel, “He told me the Americans wouldn’t say no,” Labwani said, adding that when the proposal was presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he “didn’t say no.”

According to Labwani, the proposed safe zone, approved by the Israelis, is supposed to run 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) deep into Syrian territory and approximately 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) along the border, starting just south of Hadar (a pro-government Druze village) to southern Quneitra, spanning over 17 villages, with a population of around 15,000 people.

He explained, “[The Israelis] said they would use their national security as a reason in front of the international community and that they want to protect their borders. Then the Jordanians and the Turks can do [their own safe zones], after the Israelis start it.”

The liaison unit first came to light in May 2016, with the purpose of coordinating humanitarian and medical aid for residents in southern Syria, in an effort to win over hearts and minds. The unit is reportedly based on Yakal, which was the Israeli unit created for south Lebanon during the Lebanese civil war as a mechanism to interact with Lebanese citizens and militias.

In 1975, at the start of Lebanon’s civil war, Israel began connecting with residents under what was dubbed the Good Fence Policy. According to Lebanese residents, Israel set up a network of collaborators and played up sectarian fears against the Palestinians. Within months, Israel created the Free Lebanon Army under dismissed Lebanese commander Saad Haddad. In 1980, when Haddad was old and sick, this force became the South Lebanon Army under Antoine Lahd. Its task was to target Israel’s enemies, Palestinians and Lebanese, and to pave the way for Israel’s invasion and subsequent occupation of south Lebanon.

A similar scenario seems to be taking shape in southern Syria 40 years later…”

Read more:

Written by nickbiddlenoe

July 27, 2016 at 4:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Saudi Arabia views conflict with Iran/Hezbollah as existential-a reality that will lead it into ever growing alliance with Israel

This is but one anchor over decades that challenges the arguments of some in Israel that the country exists in a sea of hostile Arab states. This argument has long since been debunked, which is why when we read in Arab newspapers about the impending “open” alliance between Gulf states and Israel, it is not that surprising… It was always just a matter of time and the right shift in balance of power and instability.

From Lebanon’s Ad-Diyyar, which has largely been hostile to KSA:

“…In this context, the circle called for seriously considering the threats related to the strategic Saudi transformation. Al-Riyadh has taken its decision and believes it is fighting an existential war with Iran where it needs to win because a loss means the collapse of the Kingdom. In light of the lack of trust in the American “partner,” the failed bets on the Obama Administration, and the growing doubts about the possibility  of relying on Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, Israel remains the trusted partner since it shares with the Kingdom a common “scourge:” the Iranian threat and the staunch enemy: Hezbollah…

“The circles believe that the current Arab situation is way worse than it was prior to the July 2006 war. Back then, the things that were taking place under the table are not taking place without a trace of shame. Indeed, the Saudi delegation headed by Anwar Eshki is touring Israel and transferring clear message on the Kingdom’s desire to normalize the relations. These talks are nothing but the tip of the political iceberg signaling a well-advanced security cooperation between the two countries…”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

July 25, 2016 at 10:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

TRANSLATED: Report says Lebanese Army in negotiations with Russia over advanced arms deal

Translated tonight by our

On July 15, the An-Nahar daily newspaper carried the following piece by Rajeh al-Khoury: “All the wishes that Jean-Marc Ayrault brought along to Beirut will change nothing in the situation that he referred to after his talks in Bkirki where he said: “The Lebanese people are now facing a very difficult situation. There are tragic repercussions and security threats resulting from the war in Syria and the refugees fleeing to the neighboring countries mainly Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey.”

“There is nothing new there since the French President Francois Hollande had already seen the same situation when he visited Lebanon on April 14. For this reason, the following question seems warranted: What can the French foreign minister offer to Lebanon besides the pieces of advice and wishes that Hollande had previously offered by recommending that the politicians reach an agreement and rescue the country by electing a president, one who would relaunch the action of the paralyzed state institutions?

“The essence of the visit consisted of the meeting with Speaker Birri who reminded Ayrault of France’s previous and ongoing commitments to supporting the Lebanese army and of the importance and need to release the three billion dollars endowment aimed at supplying the Lebanese army with French weapons. The focus on the armament is of major importance for a number of reasons such as:

“First, the rise in the terrorist threats against Lebanon, the last of which consisted of the El-Qaa attacks; and the rise in the number of terrorist cells that are being uncovered and dismantled in Lebanon; in addition to the growing pressure against ISIL and An-Nusra in Syria and Iraq, which is exacerbating the threat represented by their cells outside [Syria and Iraq].

“Second, Ayrault announced that the French cabinet is preparing for a meeting to be attended by the international work group for Lebanon in New York during the upcoming month of September… Third, the Special Coordinator for the United Nations in Lebanon, Sigrid Kaag, asked the Security Council to provide additional support for Lebanon and said that this support is a need rather than a luxury especially in light of the growing terrorist threats…

“Fourth, the Lebanese ambassador to Moscow, Shawki Bou Nassar, spoke to the Russian Sputnik agency where he revealed that the Lebanese State is conducting lengthy negotiations with Moscow with the aim of obtaining a Russian weapons’ deal including T-72 tanks, Kornet missiles, and canons in order to enhance its ability to engage in the escalating battles and confrontations with the terrorist.

“Fifth, Lebanon constitutes a vital line of defense to push back the terrorism waves that might cross over to France and Europe. For this reason, supplying the Lebanese army with weapons and supporting the security forces constitutes a political, moral, and ethical responsibility for France and all the European countries.”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

July 16, 2016 at 1:38 am

Posted in Uncategorized

(Very) Preliminary Thoughts on Attempted Military Coup in Turkey Re: the Syria War & Assad’s Fortunes

Supporters here in the US of military induced regime change in Syria and/or the use of direct military force by the US/NATO and/or the Turkish military towards the same end are having a particularly bad time of it lately:

— Assad is broadening his acceptability ratings in the Western media… no matter how odious he may be, he is on an upswing and is getting his desired message across more effectively than ever (no matter the untruths on NBC the other day).

— Right wing and neo-isolationist trends in the US and Europe are broadly receptive of Assad especially vis-a-vis ISIS and the threat of so-called “radical Islamic terrorism.”

— European security agencies are directly coordinating now with Assad’s government. The recent visit to Italy and vice versa (according to Arabic media) is but one public example.

— Aleppo may fall to Assad and his allies and at least is in a more perilous state than ever before.

— Team Obama may be willing to militarily team up with Russia in Syria and may be willing to draw a harder line against rebel groups who seem to fight with Nusra and ISIS – or who have similar ideological leanings.

Now the two main regional enemies actively trying to bring down the Assad-Hezbollah-Iran-Russia axis are both on their back heels: Saudi Arabia, hit by terror attacks, financial woes, some unprecedented labor unrest, an unprecedented sidelining (and some media/political attacks) by the US, growing rumors about a succession crisis/fight and a destabilizing/unsuccessful war in Yemen; Turkey where the military may have just pushed out Assad’s number one public enemy, Erdogan.

It is true that in the last few weeks, Turkey seemed to re-orient itself to Assad, and distance itself from the Syrian Rebel groups. The U Turn on Russia was also a blow to Assad’s enemies. Was this with Erdogan’s full consent? Was a further progression along these lines stymied by Erdogan, leading to the coup? Were purely domestic factors involved (the Kurdish-Syria War nexis is a blurring, in any case, of domestic/foreign affairs…)?

Taken together, it seems very early in this that if a military coup is successful, Assad et al. are likely to benefit even more than they already are these days, five years into the Syria War.

An incredible turn around for Assad seems to be crystallizing, although so many were confident he would fall in 2011, and though at several points in 2015 he did seem on the verge of a collapse.

Whether this turn is good or bad is a whole additional debate – but for now it seems as if structural factors are moving in Assad’s favor such that we may see a denouement of the Syria War mostly in Assad’s favor.

One is now left contemplating what seemed unthinkable even recently for some analysts: If the Turkish military actively opposes the Syrian rebel groups that use Turkey as a media/political/diplomatic/intel/military staging ground, then these groups may be effectively cut off from their strategic depth. All of them – ISIS, Nusra, Ahrar, Jaish, FSA etc – would have only Jordan as a conduit, which could put enormous added pressures on the kingdom, pressures that the King likely does not wish to take on and which he would likely actively oppose across the board.

Written by nickbiddlenoe

July 16, 2016 at 1:07 am

Posted in Uncategorized

My Latest Newsweek ME Piece: The Terrorist Algorithm

“…For some experts in the field, the American government’s enduring interest in the predictive capabilities of technology—especially when paired with artificial intelligence—raises a series of concerns.

After all, getting poorly targeted advertising from Google or Facebook might be annoying, but having police break down your door in the middle of the night because of a “false positive,” a hacking breach that alters stored data or plain old identity theft could be life-changing…”

Read in full here:

Written by nickbiddlenoe

July 13, 2016 at 3:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Beri-Atwan: Real confrontation and threat lies within Saudi kingdom

Long-time critic of the KSA royals… writing in his Rai al-Youm (translated by our
“…Third: The threat against the stability and security of the Kingdom does not primarily consist of the Houthis in Yemen, nor the Shi’i Iranian neighbor or the Syrian regime, but rather the internal Saudi scene. The real war that must be fought is not the war of Yemen, Syria, Iraq or Libya but rather a war within the Saudi borders, one that cannot be fought with the Al-Hazm Storm jets and modern American-made tanks. This is rather a dogmatic war to eradicate corruption, implement political and social reforms, secure employment opportunities for the youths and engaging them in productive projects…”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

July 5, 2016 at 8:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

A more effective Administration response to Nasrallah’s “only” Iran funds us statement

The Obama administration should push back hard against the right-wing use of Nasrallah’s recent statement by employing several arguments (instead, it resorts to the line that, yes, we know Iran funds Hezbollah, and that they should stop):

First – that Nasrallah is exaggerating because of the effective (though I have argued, somewhat ill-applied) pressure of financial sanctions (by saying only Iran gives Hezb cash via smuggling and not banks, Nasrallah is reinforcing the arguments being used to blunt the new financial regulations): The US, Israel, the EU all estimate that Iran contributes only a part of Hezbollah’s budget (perhaps 200-300$ million per year).

Second – Hezbollah gets much of its weaponry from Syria and Assad, and also the black market (as Nasrallah has repeatedly said).

Third – Hezbollah gets a sizable amount of cash from religious donations, businesses and illegal enterprises (as the US has long argued) all of which are increasingly vulnerable because of the congress and admin’s new financial pressure tactics.

So, essentially, Nasrallah’s exaggeration/statement is one sign (of many) that the US is wielding an effective, non-violent tool int eh containment effort vis-a-vis Hezbollah… and that this is a logical and effective corollary to the logical and effective Iran Deal (relative to the other options that were available).




Written by nickbiddlenoe

June 29, 2016 at 8:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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