The Mideastwire Blog

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

Israeli Military assessment says Russian role constrains Hezbollah

This piece in JPost argues: “Russia’s intervention in Syria and close interaction with Hezbollah may actually decrease the likelihood of an Israel-Hezbollah conflict erupting in the near future, according to IDF assessments. For example, dialogue between Russia and Hezbollah could provide an opportunity to rein in Hezbollah responses to reported Israeli air strikes on weapons-trafficking runs in Syria. The assessments are part of a broader look at Israel’s strategic environment.”

I argued along these lines in Foreign Affairs here in October:

“Strange Bedfellows in Syria: Russian Intervention Could Constrain Iran and Hezbollah—and Help Israel”/Foreign Affairs, October 2015 (Subscriber only-accesible via Mideastwire Blog)

Nicholas Noe in Foreign Affairs: “Strange Bedfellows in Syria: Russian Intervention Could Constrain Iran and Hezbollah—and Help Israel”

The problematic point is that even if we believe the military folks in Israel actually think this…. this does NOT mean that the Israeli political leadership acts wisely on this… at all.

Written by nickbiddlenoe

January 27, 2016 at 3:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Another Hezbollah story from Jesse Rosenfeld where top commanders spill (bad) beans to US Journalist

Another Hezbollah story from Jesse Rosenfeld. I don’t understand how the National allows essentially reprinting his Daily Beast story from the previous weeks without any indication about this for the reader.

Of course, the same criticisms obtain as in previous weeks, here and on the blog via Although a bit of new color is that martyrs posters are going up all over Dahiye. This is yet another red flag, of many, (our recent research visit confirmed quite the opposite if one puts it into the context of the previous 5 and then 10 years) that means we cannot use these articles for serious analysis.

Although, very interestingly, exactly concurrent to his Daily Beast article where “Hezbollah Commanders” boast to their trusted confident Jesse about direct Russian supplies of “advanced” weaponry (why wouldn’t they trust this American Journalist with damaging information about the party?), the Israelis began their media offensive highlighting precisely this issue.

That part of the renewed media war in the wake of several Hezbollah advances will be the bulk of my piece next week!

Written by nickbiddlenoe

January 26, 2016 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Unrest & protests over economic conditions in Algeria

My piece on the increasingly brittle situation in Algeria as seen by several analysts.

Translated tonight by

On January 20, the daily El-Khabar reported: “Yesterday morning, hundreds of workers and citizens, came out in a massive march in Bejaia, to express their rejection of the policy issued by the government to counter the drop in oil prices and the extreme poverty that threaten the lives of Algerians because of the 2016 Finance Act. The march organized by the SNAPAP and the associative movement, started from the House of Culture in the Amouri neighbourhood and ended in a large gathering at the Said Mekbel Square. During the march, participants raised banners opposing the government and the way it is managing the so-called crisis, where according to the unions it has dropped the burden of the crisis exclusively on the working class. Mourad Gharbi, a worker at the Kasr Municipality, said: “The people refuse to be the only ones to become impoverished and suffer from the ravages of the crisis. Austerity plans, if any are applied, must include the government and the parliament.” He said that the deprivation had reached its limit and that the situation cannot continue, adding that the government is asked to rectify the situation by abolishing the 2016 Finance Act.

“During the march, many slogans were chanted, such as “The impoverished have woken up…O government of forgery,” “No to selective austerity O mismanaging government.” Many trade unionists also said that the government is sucking the blood of Algerians, and that they must leave before a major social upheaval takes place. A teacher and unionist said that the government “will not succeed in bullying and intimidating the people to put them in front of a fait accompli, while it continues to enjoy of the Algerians’ billions at the expense of the poor and helpless.” Nasim Belakhdar, a SNAPAP official, said that the march was due to the government’s failure in managing the austerity policy as it has led the workers to poverty and deprivation from the national wealth; meanwhile a minority of government loyalists has exclusive control over the funds of all Algerians. Many protesters stressed that the only solution to impede the government’s attempt to impoverish the people, is to organize peaceful protests throughout Algeria.

“Municipal workers who participated in the march and who are members of SNAPAP warned the government, through a statement that was distributed to the audience and the press, of the consequences of continuing along this path and persisting in ignoring the demands of the workers, especially those related to improving the purchasing power that is at such a low level. They emphasized that this will lead to more protests that will continue until all the demands are met. As a reminder, the protest march was accompanied by a general strike that paralysed most of the municipalities’ sections, especially after scores of workers not affiliated to the SNAPAP joined the march to express their rejection of the high cost of living, and supported the demands of the union. This came after merchants and owners of cafes and transport vehicles raised the price of their services by more than 30 per cent, despite warnings from the Departments of Trade and Transport.”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

January 22, 2016 at 6:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

In case you missed it… ISIS just destroyed most of Libya’s oil export capabilities

A part and parcel of a very smart economic terrorism push designed to fracture the various states.

Translated tonight by our

On January 22, the Saudi-owned London-based Al-Hayat newspaper carried the following report by its correspondent in Tripoli Ali Shuaib: “ISIL’s armed elements staged a surprise attack on the Ra’s Lanuf Port in the Libyan oil crescent yesterday, and burned four tanks of crude [oil] and the main gas pipeline that feeds the power plants in several cities of the country’s west, in addition to the Extreme Green [probably referring to the Greenstream] pipeline that delivers gas to Italy through the Mediterranean. Sources in the oil sector described ISIL’s attack as an act of sabotage aiming to stop the exportation of Libyan crude oil, which was confirmed by Chairman of the National Oil Corporation Mustafa Sanalla by saying that the production of 360,000 barrels per day will indefinitely come to a halt, as a result of the destruction of the remaining tanks.

“The terrorist organization claimed responsibility for the attack and threatened to hit all the Libyan oil ports…, at a time when eyewitnesses said that ISIL’s armed elements used rockets to strike the tanks affiliated with Al-Harouge Corporation, and IEDs to detonate the gas pipeline, which led to the eruption of massive fires and the rise of heavy black smoke in the area’s sky. For its part, the oil facilities’ guard announced it had deterred the assailants and forced them to pull back to the city of Sirte, which is under their occupation. The losses suffered by the oil sector as a result of ISIL’s attacks are estimated at around three billion barrels that burned inside the tanks, and sources voiced fears over ISIL’s targeting of the oil derivatives in the region, namely the highly-explosive Ethylene, C4 and propylene, of which there are thousands of tons…

“For his part, Sanalla said to Al-Hayat that the “full halting of the oil production will force the country to pay massive sums of money in compensations to foreign companies.” He added that the Ra’d Lanuf Port, which had been closed since December 2014, will remain so for a long time, due to the damage caused by this attack and previous ones. As for Director of Zueitina Oil Company (formerly Occidental) Nasser Zammit, he said to Al-Hayat that the destruction of the tanks had halted the pumping of oil from the fields, indicating that his company had completely stopped its export activities ever since Jadhran [a militia leader] closed the oil ports in 2014. Zammit assured at this level that changing the pumping lines and the ports was too difficult and would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. On the other hand, the Derna Mujahedeen Shura Council (east) announced the deterrence of ISIL’s attack on the city.

“The Council thus said that its armed elements, supported by the neighbourhoods’ youth, had thwarted an attempt by the organization’s armed men to enter Derna’s western neighbourhoods on the night of Wednesday-Thursday. The attack was in response to the death of five elements affiliated with the organization, in clashes with the city’s youth on Tuesday…”


Written by nickbiddlenoe

January 22, 2016 at 5:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

In Tunisia, there is democracy but the parallel state is the real power… and source of unrest

The essential problem right now in Tunisia – and for democracy practitioners and academics as a matter of research and approach – is that 3/4 of the population is democratically represented by the four main parties in power… but these four parties actually have very little hard power to break the power of the parallel state made up of the police-business monopolists-mafia.
Without breaking this decades old triangle, the new democratic institutions of the country cannot hope to deliver socio-economic benefits to their constituents… and they cannot reform the security sector to actually protect the country and their constituents from terrorists and insurgents.
This is the crux of the problem and the reason why, without a major international-Tunisian effort aimed at the parallel state, it is doubtful that the country can escape a further descent into violence, insurgency, economic collapse and wide social unrest.
The liklihood of muddling through as a kind of corrupt, kind of democratic state – but one that doesn’t collapse – is rapidly receding.

Written by nickbiddlenoe

January 22, 2016 at 5:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The necessity of connecting Tunisian unrest with a region that is widely breaking down

Translated tonight by our, an important bit that links the situation in Egypt with Tunisia… and what could spread beyond national borders since the accelerants are regional.
We may be at the beginning of seeing a two-fold breakdown – Violent extremism/insurgencies on one axis AND violent socio-economic unrest across multiple constituencies.
Corny as it sounds, this could well represent a kind of perfect storm, with enormously, long-lasting destabilizing consequences.
From As-Safir:
“… As if the regime’s fears are not enough, bad luck also joined in since, only a few days prior to the January 25 revolution’s anniversary, the features of a new uprising are emerging in Tunisia. This new uprising set-off from Kasserine and Al-Kaf and expanded to include eight regions. Interestingly, the events in Tunisia are motivated by reasons that are clearly present in Egypt…”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

January 22, 2016 at 5:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

On the Fracturing of Tunisia: “I no longer feel as if this is my country”

In November I wrote for Newsweek after traveling through the south and to Gassrine/Chaambi ( ) about how Gassrine and the whole stretch of the South/border regions were in deep danger of fracturing… and that external policymakers and Tunisian democrats, especially, needed to recognize the situation as such and take drastic action.
ISIS and other similar group’s (primarily) economic terrorism of last year (to destroy the tourism economy and encourage smuggling/illegal trade structures) perfectly exacerbated the country’s split along pre-existing socio-economic fault lines (among other fault lines).
Now that strategy is “coming home to roost,” in particular because the corrupt business elite-police matrix (the parallel state that really runs so much of country) is both unable to reform the deeply inefficient Tunisian economy (it would undermine their interests substantially) and it is unable to protect the country from ISIS and others.
This is why I strongly disagreed with Mikhail Ayari and Crisis Group’s approach (also echoed by many analysts and EU-US government officials) that the parallel state and the police especially could somehow be convinced and invited into a (another) soft dialogue process to reform itself (they can be “canalized” to use the lingo and they certainly should not be approached with force or in a confrontational manner). One leading analyst told me that Tunisia would surely be able to “muddle through” and be a sort of corrupt, sort of democratic state… but it would survive.
There would not be another collapsed state on the Mediterranean.
From Mikhail’s report last summer: “a head-on fight between the Internal Security Forces and the political class is a dead end.” Rather than “impos(ing) their vision on the Internal Security Forces,” ICG asserted, Tunisia’s democrats needed to somehow “channel the ISF’s desire for independence,” cooperate with it and offer “encourage(ment).”
On Al-Jazeera this morning, one protester said it clearly: “I no longer feel as if this is my country.” These parts of Tunisia “have long been neglected” – of course – as the old refrain goes. But in the midst of a region on fire, and a major, collapsed state (Libya) and un-governed areas all around, these sentiments, combined with the near impossibility that the Tunisian “parallel state” (the economic-police mafia network) can actually respond efficiently and swiftly to increasing socio-economic demands of the interior/border area (and certainly will never take it upon itself to change)… all of this means the liklihood of Tunisia fracturing is growing by the day.
In the end, if enough regionally-divided Tunisians feel it really is no longer a coherent country able to provide for them – that they are not really a part of the coast and the capital’s country – and ISIS or other actors seize the initiative, we could see a particularly violent, prolonged denouement.
I wrote about this gathering storm here since March 2015:
“It’s Not Springtime in Tunisia Anymore”/Tablet, March 2015
“Another Middle Eastern State Could Collapse, and More Cash and Weapons Won’t Save It”/Tablet, September 2015
“The Problem With Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Tunisia’s National Dialogue Quartet”/Tablet, October 2015
“Why 60,  65 and 114 US-based experts are wrong in believing that more cash and weapons will help save Tunisia”/Mideastwire Blog, October 2015
All of this is also why I strongly disagreed with Laryssa Chomiak who just last week wrote this in the Washington Post:
“The 2011 revolution fundamentally changed the rules of the political game in Tunisia, and while it remains a source of contention and conflict, this achievement is irreversible. As painful testimonies and artistic representations remind us, today, unlike in 2010, Tunisians can publicly debate and disagree on their new political order. Tunisia is celebrating the anniversary of the end of silence: the irreversible effects of a revolution that has opened space for the outpouring of ideas, political ideologies, criticisms of policy and politicians, commentary and free speech. Public political space has changed radically from a controlled and repressive dictatorship to a significantly more open pitch on which a battle of ideas can be loudly debated. Rather than foretelling any democratic demise, the ongoing struggle between Tunisia’s past and future embodies the spirit of its revolution.”

ADDITION and CORRECTION: Laryssa is right on, by the way, in the intent of the piece which is to remind people that yes, things are tough, but the country has come a long way and it should be celebrated for that as well as criticized – and even having both expressions is a reflection of that progress. Her concern is the growing over-emphasis – if I understand her correctly – on negative aspects and what is missing which has a negative knock on effect for everyone involved.

Sadly, I disagree, however, with Laryssa’s idea that 1) the democratic achievements of the country are “irreversible” and 2) that warnings about the liklihood of a collapse/major breakdown is overdone – and that such approaches are in a sense complicitous in promoting instability because they promote a discourse of “absence” i.e. all that is missing and not being done in post-revolutionary Tunisia.

The events this last week and the attacks of the last year are only the beginning, it seems. Right now, much is not only reversible in Tunisia, but also open to a range of contingencies, almost none of which look particularly good.
As I wrote in September, there is a way out, but it means the EU, the US and Tunisian democrats (primarily) band together, recognize the existential threats that are gathering, and move forward with some pretty extensive steps which have not been tried to date. This would mean at a minimum 1) the long proposed “Marshall plan” of stimulus and investment in Tunisia via grants, not more loans and 2) as a part of the bargain, a root and branch dismantling of the parallel state’s top tiers through a mixed UN-Tunisian anti-corruption drive.
Clear out the top-tiers of corruption in the police, business elites and mafia, allow for subordinates and others to rise up rapidly so long as they fear and agree with the anti-corruption drive principles/permanent nature… and at the same time invest, invest, invest. As a part of this, naturally, reforming the legal structures hampering growth, fairness and justice in the country would also have to be pursued.
This is of course a major task, and one that is perhaps unprecedented in such a mixed, International-state effort.
But short of this, I don’t see how Tunisia “muddles through,” especially because the negative factors pushing for instability and violence are only apparently growing.

Written by nickbiddlenoe

January 22, 2016 at 1:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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