The Mideastwire Blog

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

@NoeNicholas in Washington Post: Nasrallah says real security dependent on Sunni cooperation

Quoted in Liz Sly’s piece here today:

“…The plea also, however, appeared to be an acknowledgment that Hezbollah and its Iranian and Shiite allies can’t win the fight against the Islamic State unaided, said Nicholas Noe, a Beirut-based political analyst.

“He was acknowledging Hezbollah’s fundamental weakness right now, which is that ‘we can’t resolve this on our own,’ ” he said. “He was very much making it clear that if they stand alone, the region is never going to settle down….”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

February 17, 2015 at 3:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

WINEP’s @PhillipSmyth: 300 footnotes (but only 5 from Arabic sources) falls far short in proving Shiite discourse is anti-Sunni

WINEP has another long report that merely emphasizes the old point about WINEP’s limited usefulness: When their researchers try to go deeply into a matter that they have little direct familiarity with, and apparently little language ability in, they are great at collecting and synthesizing reams of English-language reports and publications (although so often they cite their own work in a footnote as proof of a point!) but in all this effort they usually fall short in laying out a convincing case.

Phillip Smyth’s new report here reflects the WINEP line which is desperately trying to push the “shiite problem” back to the center of American discourse – since the Obama administration may be on the verge of an historic rapprochement with mainly shiite Iran and since here in Lebanon and elsewhere the US is actually in the same intel/military trench as some of the pro-Iranian groups for the first time in more than 30 years (excluding Afghan war cooperation of course by G.W. Bush in 2001-2002).

The mission is therefore to show that the Shiites are more dangerous for US national interests and Israeli interests (no distinction is usually ever made) than the likes of ISIS, Nusrah and Al-Qaeda – and that they are just as sectarian, racist, hate filled, unreasonable etc – and can only be dealt with by force and pressure and violence in the end.

Smyth’s report attempts to prove that the iran-led/backed mobilization effort is deeply sectarian, hate filled anti sunni etc (and prima facie that the “shiite problem” is a bigger threat to US interests – the result here is what we are all now used to: Al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers come off as merely fighting the “real” evil Iran/hizbullah etc…. i.e. they are not that bad and not that dangerous in the end. As but one example, Smyth talks about “grains” of truth – only – to the deluge of reports showing how ISIS, NUSRAH and like minded groups have violently suppressed and killed minorities, especially christians.)

The problem is that Smyth literally marshals ONE example to show that the pro-shiite discourse – the vigorous shiite narrative used by Hezbollah et al. on occasion – turns into an anti-Sunni and sectarian and hate-filled against the Other just like the other side represented by ISIS, Nusrah etc: And the proof… one poster where the Saudi king allegedly stands in as the evil Yezid.

His thesis is therefore:  “In effect, the messaging strategy is fueling the growth of extremely sectarian outlooks among Shiites, an end, at least in the short term, desired by Iran.”

— No proof is also offered throughout the lengthy report for this claim that the “extremely” sectarian outlook is “desired” by Iran. Now, this MAY BE TRUE… I am inclined to agree there may be truth to this…. but Smyth does not seem to care to offer any proof for this large claim.

He then proves  his core thesis, by pointing to the finger: “In this narrative, the rebels are often likened to the evil Yazid. In some Shi ite militia imagery, Zainab is shown giving her symbolic speech or pointing her finger at the Saudi king Abdullah, who supports the rebels and makes for a useful Yazid stand-in.”

Well, that is it…. for the 88 pages we get literally ONE example of actively “anti-sunni” discourse… and not merely proudly shiite – or specifically shiite referencing – discourse (Smyth even quotes nasrallah at one point where he makes the point about how he is going to depart from the norm and talk as a shiite, although smyth fails to see the importance of this excerpt.. and he is later forced to repeat one line from a nasrallah speech on Jersusalem day – talking in laudatory/proud terms about shiites – twice in order to “prove” his larger point).

Smyth also, in WINEP fashion sometimes, just doesn’t cite any evidence for a major claim here about Fadlallah: “Likewise was the image appropriated of Hezbollah “spiritual advisor” Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, who in his lifetime was critiqued by Iran for distancing himself from velayat-e faqih and later declaring himself a marja taqlid (source of emulation), a direct affront to Ayatollah Khamenei. Following Fadlallah’s death, Hezbollah recast him as a lower-ranking religious leader completely in line with the group’s leadership and, by extension that of Iran.

– Hmm, this may be true – but no evidence is provided.

My favorite part is that Smyth actually uses Richard Engel’s kidnap story to prove a point about how shiite fighters in syria are intensely Shiite (which is not surprising and does not prove his overall polemic in any case). Smyth should take care here after Brian Williams’ example…. it may be true…. but not a good cite for a think tank paper!”The IRGC role was given credence after NBC News correspondent Richard Engel and four members of his news team were kidnapped for five days in late 2012 before escaping during a firefight at a checkpoint. According to Engel, his kidnappers were “openly expressing their Shiite faith”

and were “trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.”
Finally – the core problem is that Smyth writes about a subject that is only really explored through the original language. After all, his polemic is about the discourse itself – and religious discourse no less!
300 footnotes later and we discover that there are only five references to arabic original sources. It is simply not credible to do a long report that so directly and so deeply involves the original language as the main issue, and not cite, not use and not ponder the original material.
So after 88 pages, the reader has a lot of weblink synthesis, but little improvement in his or her actual understanding of the matter at hand.

Written by nickbiddlenoe

February 17, 2015 at 12:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Live blogging 2: Nasrallah speech on tri-martyr day for Hezbollah

Nasrallah says that the ISIS brutality is no so far from Hollywood and its productions.

We can defeat this threat – Nasrallah says that for Muslims, the war against Isis-nusrah-takfiris is a war for Islam.

We are proud to say we are a part of this battle against the takfiris… we are NOT defending shias or sunnis… we are defending the religion of Mohammad. Our giving is limitless, our patience will be limitless…our readiness to go to the end will be limitless. Just as our Imam Hussein demonstrated. I said we are doing this but all muslims are called upon to defend their religion. It does not have to be with weapons. Nothing like ISIS has happened before in our history.

Nasrallah praises political process in Iraq and the cross-sectarian cooperation he says is working and yielding results… it is a model.

Nasrallah says for those of you calling on us to withdraw FROM Syria I call on you to go TO Syria.

Let us go anywhere that we can confront this threat – this is the way superpowers of the world behave, the way strong armies of the world behave. I wont take you to Ukraine. Therefore I say let us talk about our approaches, no one should be afraid that if it ends in Syria, then there should be a fear here… that is an outdated issue.

Nasrallah calls for coordination between LAF and Syrian Army and gov-gov coordination.


Written by nickbiddlenoe

February 16, 2015 at 8:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Live blogging: Nasrallah speech on tri-martyr day for Hezbollah

Just some brief notes… from Press TV’s live feed, in translation by Ali Rizk:

“…On the other side of the eastern mountain range we have ISIS and Nusrah – ISIS stretches between Libya to Arsal outskirts [and beyond]. When the snow melts something should happen. The state and people must make their decisions… How will we deal with this threat and this danger. We need a stance. We can easily defeat these groups but it needs a decision and a national will…”

Key decision nearing: coordinating with Assad. Nasrallah urged that the time for decision-making is fast approaching, by which he means, the army, people, Hezbollah and the Syrian Army have to coordinate, unite and fight in concert… i.e. with the full backing of the national unity government.

Now there is no fate of a country decided in a country – this region has been shaken upside down…. and he who wants to decide the fate of Lebanon must be present in the fate of the region. He who is absent [or disassociated] from the fate of the region, he cannot do anything at all. Is this right? Indeed, perhaps the fate of the world is decided in the region!

March 14’s “disassociation” policy was never realistic and is especially obtuse now. Nasrallah adeptly parried the cart/horse argument of so many years here, and said no matter we thought and argued about previously, you cannot disassociate Lebanon from the region. Period. We Hezbollah – he said -always thought this anyway, but now it is OBVIOUS that Lebanon has to be an active actor in the region in order to protect itself and control its own fate. This means, he is saying, the Baabda Declaration and all the criticisms of Hezbollah in Syria are null and void since, in his view, it is obvious…. if Lebanon waits this regional storm out, it will get swept away. This addresses the logic on the “street” and among some M14 intellectuals/leaders/cadres that says, if hezbollah had kept out of Syria, and then ISIS gathered anyway (a key assumption he is making but one which seems reasonable to many here I would think…) and moved towards lebanon, well then all Lebanese would unite and defend the country. Nasrallah is essentially saying that this was a huge wager and risk… better to pre-empt… and can any of us really trust in a united Lebanon front in the event of ISIS coming, he asks? Many, especially Hezbollah supporters, have little confidence that such a brave, patriotic unity would have formed, and would have been effective enough, given the regional and international agendas and long history of meddling.

— Nasrallah says only Israel in the region seems totally unconcerned and threatened  by ISIS and Nusrah, as evidenced, he asserted, by recent comments from Israeli officials.

— Nasrallah warns Saudi Arabia…. the REAL goal, the end goal, is Mecca and Medina. Baghdadi has appointed an emir for both, not Jerusalem. This is the battle we are heading too.

— Nasrallah makes fun of the Libyan ISIS killers who executed the copts – saying they say their goal is rome… Rome! Not jerusalem or mecca but Rome…. what is wrong with these people?

— Conspiracy theories – Nasrallah warns against conspiracy theories and therefore says, yes, beware but it is time to LOOK… to ponder the role of mossad, CIA and british intel… who is benefiting from events?

— At the same time, Nasrallah says Italy now must ponder sending military forces 350 km to defend against terrorism… while in lebanon they are right here and there is a questioning of what to do with this true danger.

Written by nickbiddlenoe

February 16, 2015 at 7:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

My new piece on Huffington Post regarding the battle for Southern Syria

The Battle for Southern Syria Has Been Joined and a Regional Conflict May Just Be the Main Event

Beirut — If reports in the Arabic media and now the English language media bear out in the coming period, an exceedingly dangerous new battle in the almost four-year-long Syria revolt/war is apparently now being joined.

According to several Lebanese daily newspapers, the combined military axis represented by the militant Lebanese party Hezbollah, the Syrian army under the control of President Bashar al-Assad together with Iranian soldiers and commanders is now engaged in a series of coordinated military maneuvers against what is perceived, at least here in Beirut, in Damascus and in Tehran, as an opposing axis of Syrian rebel groups (including some formerly and currently affiliated with the Free Syria Army), Al-Qaeda’s franchise in Syria called the al-Nusra front, Jordanian intelligence elements and (indirectly) the Israeli army and intelligence services.

Of course, credible evidence for the activities of the former alliance on the ground in Syria has been longstanding, stretching back at least two years. Indeed only last month, several Hezbollah fighters and an Iranian general were killed by an Israeli strike in Southern Syria near the Golan Heights that Israel has occupied since the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

It seems likely that the figures who were killed were both surveying the ground for the expected offensive against the Syrian rebels that have been ascendant in the area over the past year, as well as, possibly, exploring military positions that could also be set up and used against Israel as both deterrence and as possible retribution should Israel continue in its repeated attacks against Syrian-Hezbollah facilities and personnel operating in both Syria and in Lebanon.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given its politically explosive nature, the opposing alliance has been much more difficult to understand and document. The main exhibit over the past few months has been a single, published UN report at the end of last year detailing increased Israeli-rebel contacts and coordination in and around the occupied Golan. Since Al-Qaeda’s franchise, al-Nusra, is known to mostly control the area where the Israeli contacts are reported to have taken place, and since some Israeli attacks in the area have materially benefited Nusrah’s advance against the Syrian army, it hasn’t exactly been a tough sell in the region, at least, to argue that Israel is likely engaged in an effort to coordinate and support some of the most bitter (and well-equipped) opponents of Hezbollah, Iran and Syria in the hope of, quite possibly, staking out a “security zone” in Southern Syria (beyond the Occupied Golan) that would more effectively buffer it from its main foes.

Be that as it may, what we are now witnessing is an indication that the self-proclaimed “Resistance Axis” is apparently not waiting for a journalistic or official confirmation of the exact alliance that has been gathering in Southern Syria.

The Israeli strike in the area last month and Hezbollah’s counter-strike in a piece of territory occupied by Israel near the Lebanese-Syrian border have apparently only quickened the pace of conclusions that had been brewing as open questions for months, if not longer.

The main thrust of the “new” thinking is simple: A long axis of open confrontation and violence, with uncertain rules and boundaries, has been opened for all concerned players along a line stretching from the Mediterranean to the northwestern tip of Jordan.

The core problem – and the great danger – we all face is that four years into the Syria conflict, a multi-sided battle for Southern Syria dramatically raises the likelihood of a far greater, regional confrontation; one which many analysts, on all sides, have been expecting since the inconclusive end of the July 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel.

Indeed, on top of all the reasons for another Lebanon war and for yet another ratcheting up of the violence in Syria, the area in and around the occupied Golan Heights are sharply drawn “red lines” for both the “Resistance Axis” and the Israelis. Neither can now afford the other side to maintain a “security belt” or a string of military positions since doing so opens up an array of military, political and diplomatic vulnerabilities and limitations that both sides seem to judge as intolerable.

Given this, and given the widening prospect of miscalculation, unintended consequences and even “false flag” operations from any interested party (and there are now possibly thousands of such parties in the imploding regional system), the U.S., Europe, nearby states and the world at large should move immediately to focus their energies and attention on this crucial, developing battlefield – one that has all the potential of plunging everyone into a far worse, far more intractable conflict, beyond even what is possible with the rise of the Islamic State.

Unfortunately, one of the only remaining ways of avoiding a further conflagration in the region is to end the overall conflict in Syria through a political settlement.

Even though a possible rapprochement between Iran and the U.S. could help in this regard, and even as international support (especially U.S. support) for a negotiated political settlement in Syria is reportedly growing, both of these supportive developments will take months, possibly years to ripen and finalize, if at all.

The reality then is that events on the ground are moving far quicker than the pace of diplomacy, which of course is often the case even in conflicts where the potential for great pain regionally and internationally is evident early on.

As a result, one shouldn’t be surprised, looking back in a few months, to find further death and destruction in the region as a result of our collective inability to prevent yet one more aspect of the conflict in Syria from bursting forth.

In this particular case, however, with Israel more directly involved, one thing will be certain: Putting back together all of the broken pieces will be far more of a difficult, painful and expensive task than we have hitherto become accustomed.

Nicholas Noe is the Co-Founder of and the editor of “Voice of Hezbollah: The Statements of Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah” (Verso, 2007).

Written by nickbiddlenoe

February 12, 2015 at 5:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

TRANSLATED: Safir reports major military moves in S. Syria-Golan-Israel/Nusrah+Rebels/Jord. Intel v. Hizb-Iran-Syra

As expected – this, I would argue, will be the major developing story in the coming weeks and beyond. What a wonderful arena for 1) Jordanian establishment and royal family to hurt ISIS by aligning stronger with its enemy, rebels+Nusrah/al-Qaeda, 2) Israel to inflict pain on Hizb et al and to “constrain their operational space,” 3) Some arab states and turkey to hurt Bashar etc al and 4) For putting greater pressure on lebanon’s internal stability (for those that see benefit from that action) and 5) helping – perhaps – lend a nice hand to Netanyahu ahead of elections and 6) …. creating a mini conflict (never easy to contain mind you but…) that puts pressure on the Iranian-US rapprochement.


On February 9, the independent, leftist As-Safir daily newspaper carried the following report: “Most probably, statement number 2 is currently being written by the Resistance and the Syrian Army. Within the past few hours, the Syrian army, Hezbollah and Iranian volunteers launched a wide military operation in the southern front. This operation could constitute the preface for the counter-attack that the Syrian army has been preparing for months in order to infiltrate areas that were seized by the alliance formed by Israel, some factions of the armed Syrian opposition, An-Nusra Front, and the Jordanian intelligence services.

“The counter-attack carried out by the Syria, Lebanese, Iranian triangle in Rif Quneitra is at the heart of the statement number 2. Without that, one cannot correctly view the assassination of the Hezbollah and Jerusalem Battalion martyrs in Mazraat al-Amal, an assassination carried out by the Israeli enemy in the context of the war on the southern Syrian front…”


Written by nickbiddlenoe

February 11, 2015 at 4:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

TRANSLATED: Qatari owned daily-Jordan is fighting ISIS in east Syria but supporting Nusrah/Al-Qaeda in S. Syria

An interesting bit from the Qatari-owned daily Al-Quds al-Arabi (translated by today): “…Indeed, they believe it is striking ISIL in Ar-Raqqa, but not deterring the closer An-Nusra Front in Daraa. This is why Minister Walid Muallem talked about Jordan’s ongoing facilitations to the terrorists. But the Jordanian priorities are clear at this level, as it wants to settle scores with ISIL and not An-Nusra, at a time when Damascus’ evidence behind the scenes point to the release of famous Salafi theoretician Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Makdessi, who enjoys great influence in An-Nusra Front and is heard by its sheikhs… Hence, Damascus wants a drastic and not just a tactical position, whereas Amman’s priority is ISIL and its battle against it on the internal and regional levels cannot be complete without “understandings,” even if temporary ones, with An-Nusra Front and its supporters on the internal arena…”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

February 11, 2015 at 4:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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