The Mideastwire Blog

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

Obama Doctrine laid out w/ my analysis from 2010 via Qifa Nabki blog on how this approach would be better re: Hezbollah & Syria

Obama has finally, more clearly than ever laid out an approach to the Mideast which some of us have been arguing for over the years, especially (see below) as I did in 2010 when it came to re-imaging US policy towards Hezbollah and Syria.

The key part from the NYT interview:

“We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that’s the thing … people don’t seem to understand,” the president said. “You take a country like Cuba. For us to test the possibility that engagement leads to a better outcome for the Cuban people, there aren’t that many risks for us. It’s a tiny little country. It’s not one that threatens our core security interests, and so [there’s no reason not] to test the proposition. And if it turns out that it doesn’t lead to better outcomes, we can adjust our policies. The same is true with respect to Iran, a larger country, a dangerous country, one that has engaged in activities that resulted in the death of U.S. citizens, but the truth of the matter is: Iran’s defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion. Iran understands that they cannot fight us. … You asked about an Obama doctrine. The doctrine is: We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.”

The notion that Iran is undeterrable — “it’s simply not the case,” he added. “And so for us to say, ‘Let’s try’ — understanding that we’re preserving all our options, that we’re not naïve — but if in fact we can resolve these issues diplomatically, we are more likely to be safe, more likely to be secure, in a better position to protect our allies, and who knows? Iran may change. If it doesn’t, our deterrence capabilities, our military superiority stays in place. … We’re not relinquishing our capacity to defend ourselves or our allies. In that situation, why wouldn’t we test it?”

My friend Nicholas Noe is on a mission. For several years, he has been arguing that Washington’s hard-line, take-no-prisoners approach to dealing with Syria and Hizbullah is completely misguided. The continuous diet of pressure and isolation tactics from the West, Noe believes, has only served to improve the fortunes of the Resistance Axis, not weaken it, and he has painstakingly documented this legacy of ashes in a variety of opinion pieces published in the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and various other outlets (including his blog).

Interestingly, Noe does not take the view of certain commentators to whom he is often compared (such as Alistair Crooke and Nir Rosen) that the West should be criticized for waging a war on parties whose resistance agenda is perfectly legitimate. Rather, his beef with Washington is that this strategy is wrong because it is not effective enough. In other words, Noe does not have a problem with the ends of US policy; he simply disagrees with the means.

Take his most recent article for The National Interest. In it, he argues that Hizbullah has been painted into a corner because of the unrest in Syria and the indictments by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). Washington and its allies have sensed Hizbullah’s weakness and are now hoping to press their advantage, which Noe thinks is a terrible idea:

…Many influential voices in Washington and European capitals need to very carefully consider the wisdom of the road that they are going down—a road that will, in all probability, bring great destruction to the region, including to Israel whose home front will undoubtedly be a main frontline. Saying this, however, does not have to mean simply withering away in the face of a threat. Instead, it could mean—it should mean—that outside actors who hold such comparatively great power…might finally have to find a means and a discourse to grant concessions to far weaker…parties—a course that would actually fatally undermine their ability and desire to exercise violence over time, either against their own people or against other nations.

In other words, now is not the time to push Syria and Hizbullah further into a corner, but rather to use one’s increased leverage over them to extract valuable (but unspecified) concessions.

I think Nick’s voice is an important one to listen to on these issues, but I also think that his policy proposals are too vague in this case, and that he is overly optimistic about the positive outcome of a so-called “third way” with regard to Syria and Hizbullah.

To take another example, here’s an excerpt from a recent post of his about the mistakes that the US and March 14 made in pursuing a “maximalist” track on the STL:

READ ON here:

Written by nickbiddlenoe

April 6, 2015 at 2:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

GCC Braces Itself For Iran’s Retaliation to Airstikes on Houthis Writes Analyst Leila Hatoum

GCC Braces Itself For Iran’s Retaliation to Airstikes on Houthis
By Leila Hatoum

Dubai — Arab gulf states expect Iran to violently attack their interests in the region in response to airstrikes carried out by those states against what they deem “an Iranian-bred insurgency in Yemen.”

Iran’s retaliation, according to Arab Gulf diplomatic officials may take any form, including explosions targeting Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) businesses and/or embassies, among other means.

The anticipated violence may be carried out by “Iran’s regional operatives,” according to several officials in retaliation for the GCC-led coalition of 10 states targeting Shia insurgents known as Ansar Allah (God’s Supporters) in Yemen.

The coalition’s initial plan, under the banner of the Decisive Storm operation, is for a month of airstrikes. However, GCC diplomatic officials also say the airstrikes “may carry on for another five or six months.”

With the possibility of the military action dragging towards September 2015, Arab Gulf states are therefore looking at enlarging the coalition in any way possible, including having states join via humanitarian aid and logistical support.

The USA has been supplying technical support to the coalition in the form of intelligence reports and satellite images.

Oman, which shares common borders with Yemen, is the only GCC state refusing to take part in the military ops or bless it.

Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthis, (named after the founder Hussein al-Houthi), is a Zaidi group representing a minority percentage of Yemen’s 24 million-strong population.

The quick rise of the Houthis across most of Yemen’s northern territories became alarming to its neighboring majorly-Sunni Saudi Arabia, which also shares borders with northern Yemen.

What made the insurgency particularly dangerous were satellite images provided by the USA in January showing SCUD missiles in northern Yemen pointed towards Saudi Arabia.

GCC states believe Houthis are holding most of Yemen’s 300 SCUD missiles, with ranges of “250km and 650km.” If true, that means the Houthis can reach any city within the Kingdom.

News of Iran aiding the Yemeni insurgents with arms and funding doesn’t help Houthis’ case either.

Arab Gulf diplomats say “nearly 5000 Iranian, Hezbollah and Iraqi militia personnel are currently present in Yemen training and aiding the Houthis in their coup versus legitimacy.”

Though Houthis deny any Iranian affiliation with their proclaimed revolution, some slogans painted in Houthi-controlled areas are a replica of those used by Iran during their own Islamic revolution, as well as those used in the 1990s by Lebanon’s Hezbollah in its Beirut southern suburbs’ stronghold.

Wall graffiti painted in Iran’s flag colors, the red, green and white bearing slogans of “Death to America (USA); Death to Israel; Damn the Jews; Victory to Islam,” can be seen across Houthi-held areas. The slogans are often painted over in anti-Houthi areas by opposing tribes.

Houthis, who base some of their gains on a claim that current transitional president Mansoor Hadi is illegitimate as his term ended in 2014, also blame the state for marginalizing them.

However, it is understood that Houthis’ rise to power wouldn’t have been as swift as it was had it not been for the fact that the majority of northern yemenis are Zaidi.

The Zaidis are a part of Shia Islam. Shia in Yemen constitute about 35% of the population, of which the 400 zaidi tribes are the majority, with minor Shiaas belonging to the ismaili and twelvers divisions.
The remaining 65% majority of the population are Sunni, however, with most living in the south and southeastern regions, where Houthis are yet to have a foothold.

On the other hand, GCC states claim that Hadi’s transitional presidency remains legitimate until new presidential elections take place.

Following the Houthis’ takeover of the capital Sanaa, Hadi was forced to take refuge in the southern town of Aden, which he declared as a temporary capital.

Iran, which has publicly said it sympathizes with the Houthis, denies igniting sectarian strife. But its Arab gulf arch rivals blame it for taking advantage of anti-Israeli sentiment as well as the aspirations and fears of minorities in the region.

An endless bickering between the Shiite Iranian regime and its Sunni Arab counterparts, continues to feed into the region’s sectarian tension as well.

The Houthis’ insurgency has, so far, pushed some Sunni tribes to sympathize with the ultra-Sunni terrorist group Al-Qaeda, which has a strong foothold in Yemen’s southern region.

Meanwhile, the Decisive Storm operation that is supposed to strike military targets in Yemen, has also seen civilian casualties among Yemenis,  including children. The Houthis have taken advantage of the images of dead civilians, circulating them across social media to gather support.

The coalition has repeatedly said it does not target civilians and that the Houthis have spread some civilians in its military zones.

For now, GCC states say the solution to halt its airstrikes would be for Hadi to return to power and a cessation of Houthi hostilities. Only then could a return to dialogue be possible, a matter that Houthis see as unlikely at the moment.

Written by nickbiddlenoe

March 31, 2015 at 12:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Photos from the 13th Beirut Exchange Politics Conference

Some photos from our meetings with the Patriarch, Rami Khouri at AUB, MP from the Phalange party Nadim Gemayel, Walid Jumblatt, former Syrian vice prime minister Abdallah Dardari, May Akl senior advisor to General Michel Aoun, and many others!

Written by nickbiddlenoe

March 30, 2015 at 10:17 am

Posted in Uncategorized

13th Beirut Exchange Conference ends; Meetings with Jumblatt, FPM, Future, Hezbollah officials, among others!

The 13th Beirut Exchange is about to end after a grueling week! Below is the completed series of meetings for this (short) seven day Exchange. Deadline I is April 15 to apply for the two week Beirut Exchange, July 5-19 (visit for all of our upcoming programs in Tuns, the Gulf, Turkey and of course Beirut!).

Sunday 22
5:30pm – Abdallah Dardari, ESCWA, Former Vice PM Syrian Arab Republic
8:00pm – Safety and Security Briefing

Monday 23
8:30am – Nicholas Noe,
10:30am – Ayman Mhanna, Samir Kassir Foundation
2:00pm – Nicholas Blanford, Daily Star/Times of London
6:30pm – Omar Nashabe, Consultant for the Defense Counsel, STL

Tuesday 24
9:00am – Alex Rowell, Now Media
11:30am – Nadim Houri, Human Rights Watch
2:30pm – Karim Makdisi, AUB
4:30pm – Tannous Mouawad, LAF (Ret.)

Wednesday 25
9:00am – Rabih Shibley, AUB
11:00am – Ahmad Fatfat, MP Future Movement
1:30pm – May Akl, Senior Advisor to General Michel Aoun FPM
6:30pm – Walid Jumblat, PSP

Thursday 26
9:30am – Nicolas Pouillard, IFPO
11:30am – Alain Aoun, MP FPM
1:00pm – UNRWA
3:00pm – Mohammed Afif, Hizbullah
7:00pm – Saleh Mashnouq, Cambridge University

Friday 27
9:00am – UNIFIL
11:00am – Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Staff
12:30pm – Robert Fisk, The Independent
2:30pm – Ali Fayyad, Hizbullah
4:30pm – Rami Khouri, AUB
6:00pm – Nadim Gemayel, MP Kateab

Saturday 28
10:30am – Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi
12:00pm – Antoine Habchi, Lebanese Forces
4:00pm – Mustapha Alloush, Future Movement
8:00pm – Timur Goksel, Former Chief Spokesperson UNIFIL

Sunday 29
10:00am – Visit to Mleeta Museum South Lebanon
5:00pm – End Program

Written by nickbiddlenoe

March 30, 2015 at 10:13 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Open and (recently) “unprecedented” Hezbollah non-violent activity near Blue Line raising Israeli ire

Although many friends have been talking about some “unprecedented” behavior by Hezbollah in the south – all accurately described in this Israeli article it seems – the issue is finally rising to the surface as a potential area of concern:

“Hezbollah terrorists stroll along the border openly filming patrols, have taken Shi’ite towns, experts say – and a war will cost billions”

What is interesting and useful in this piece is:

1) Acknowledgement in Israel that “The Next War” TNW – will have HUGE military and economic costs on BOTH sides… it is NOT just a matter of making Lebanon a parking lot.

2) The Israelis seem perplexed as to why Hezbollah is “Acting out” in this manner at the border where “everyone has an interest” in keeping it relatively calm.

3) There is a frank acknowledgement that in TNW tunnels are not really needed by Hezbollah to execute significant operations in the Galilee.

Written by nickbiddlenoe

March 24, 2015 at 7:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

My article on #TunisAttack at Tablet Magazine: It’s Not Springtime in Tunisia Anymore

The full article can be accessed for free here:


Wednesday’s terrorist attack at the national museum in the heart of Tunis, in which two gunman wearing military uniforms killed 17 tourists and two Tunisians, may have shocked outsiders who still describe Tunisia as “the one success story” of the so-called Arab Spring. Yet the attack should not have come as a shock to anyone, least of all to Tunisians. Although no side claimed responsibility, press speculation in Tunisia centered on Islamic State-linked groups that have been operating in neighboring Libya, specifically Ansar ash-Sharia which is believed to be behind a series of assassinations in recent years in the capital as well as an ongoing insurgency in central Tunisia.

Indeed, for much of the last four years following the forced exit of the country’s longtime dictator, Ben Ali, Tunisian society, its political and economic leaderships, as well as key actors in the security sector have all been living under a barely sublimated, deep-seated fear that the country is wholly unprepared to defend itself from the massive security breakdown that is enveloping the entire region and steadily eating away at Tunisia’s own borders.

Periodically, of course, these fears have burst to the surface: When gunmen assassinated two left-leaning politicians in early 2013; when the national army (deliberately hobbled over the decades by dictators that saw it as a threat) were unable to dislodge a small band of insurgents who are still operating right in the middle of the country; and when the chief of staff of the Tunisian Armed Forces, General Rachid Ammar, inexplicably announced that “angels” would probably protect the country from the spillover of violence in Libya and the thousands of returning fighters from Syria…”

Continue reading via:


Written by nickbiddlenoe

March 19, 2015 at 5:25 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Israeli scholar says Army is not well prepared for conflict with Hezbollah; Hamas war showed major flaws

This is a sober report by Eitan Shamir. The implications are clear: Israel’s QME (quality military edge) with Hezbollah has deteriorated over the years, while Hamas’s fighting on the ground has materially improved. This is the negative teleology of technology that Hillary Clinton warned the Israelis about in her 2010 AIPAC speech…. overtime you can dome and wall yourself off with technology – and the US will pay heavily to help – but the arc is likely against your effectiveness over time. Peace, settlement, conflict mitigation are desperately needed.


“…Prior to Operation Protective Edge, the IDF was forced to make some decisions regarding its future force structure as a result of a shrinking budget. In effect, the IDF had to choose between one of two options: strengthen its relative weaknesses (maneuver-oriented ground forces) or, conversely, increase its relative strengths (standoff fire, precision fire, intelligence, cyber, and special forces). The IDF apparently chose the second course of action, but the consequences for its standing and reserves ground forces would be significant: cutting back supply plans for the Namer APC (armored personnel carrier); delaying the Merkava 5 tank projects; closing armor, artillery, and aircraft units; and dramatically reducing training. The ground forces could have found themselves in dire straits as they did prior to the 2006 Lebanon war.[8]

Operation Protective Edge was not a repeat of previous campaigns where Israel’s air supremacy pressed rivals to end the conflict.

The assumption behind this decision was that the ground forces’ unique capabilities would become less relevant to defeating future threats and were, therefore, no longer necessary in such strengths. Instead, it was decided that accurate, long-range fire and special forces raids aimed through precise intelligence could rapidly destroy the enemy’s capabilities. However, this assumes the ability to anticipate the nature of these threats, such as the prediction that the IDF will not face a symmetrical enemy (a large-scale, regular army). Rival armies do exist, but the IDF planners assumed they would not be used.[9] Forecasting the future is always difficult, but Israeli military planners envisioned a repeat of previous operations whereby Israel’s air supremacy pressed rivals to seek ways to end the conflict. Operation Protective Edge failed to live up to these expectations.

Ground fighting proved much fiercer than anticipated. In Operation Cast Lead (December 2008-January 2009), when Israeli ground troops entered Gaza, Hamas ground forces fled. This time, they fought to defend the tunnel system. Israeli forces searching for the tunnels inside Gaza suffered approximately 700 casualties—45 of them fatal; still, casualties among Palestinian fighters were significantly higher.[10] While the Israelis searched for the tunnels, Hamas conducted three raids into Israel via yet undiscovered tunnels. Most of the raiders were killed, but the IDF suffered casualties. The ground battle did not stop the firing of Palestinian rockets and missiles, but it did reduce it considerably.[11] Hamas also made two amphibious raids conducted in the first days of the war. Both were detected, and all the participants killed.

Written by nickbiddlenoe

March 19, 2015 at 3:57 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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