Thursday, November 27, 2014

Lebanese Armed Forces exposes a politically isolated and militarily weary Hezbollah

From Middle East Institute, 25 Nov 2014, by Basem Shabb:

In the past, the Lebanese Armed Forces’ (LAF) inability to confront or deter Israel was reflected as political weakness for the Lebanese government vis-à-vis Hezbollah. Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000 heralded a growing political role for Hezbollah. This role was further enhanced by the 2006 war with Israel, with Hezbollah claiming victory and consolidating its influence within the LAF and the government. Neither Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701, which mandated the disarmament of Hezbollah, nor Western support for March 14 forces could reverse the rising tide of the group, which had forged an alliance with General Michel Aoun, thereby securing credible Christian support. Even a sizeable faction of the Sunnis was sympathetic to Hezbollah due to its role as a deterrent force against Israel. The Palestinians, the second best armed faction after Hezbollah, were close allies. As such, the Lebanese government could not do much to confront Hezbollah. In May 2008, the group, in response to a government decision to dismantle its land-based communications network, took over Beirut while the LAF stood by. Hezbollah's military and political dominance was complete.

Hezbollah today

The Syrian crisis is changing all that. Quietly over the past few years, the LAF has been developing a credible force, with U.S. assistance. The training and materials geared toward counterterrorism, internal security, and border control were not seen by Hezbollah as a threat to its military arsenal of rockets and long range missiles. As it turns out, the LAF was better prepared for the Syrian crisis and its spillover into Lebanon. The elite units of the LAF, notably the rangers, commandos, and navy seals, were specifically trained in urban warfare and in confronting irregular forces and counterinsurgency. U.S. military equipment, while not relevant in a context of confrontation with Israel, is well suited to countering irregular forces and border control. A modest but credible helicopter force provides mobility. More importantly, the delivery of Cessna aircraft gave the LAF advanced surveillance and reconnaissance abilities as well as pinpoint firepower with Hellfire missiles. More conventional weapons such as M198 Howitzers as well as M-60A3 and M48A5 tanks offer accurate and continuous firepower.

On the other hand, Hezbollah's involvement in Syria exposed its lack of direct firepower as well as its inadequate surveillance for guerilla-style warfare in which it is on the receiving end. The conflict now involved jihadis with light weapons and mobile anti-tank missiles facing Hezbollah fighters with similar weapons. In a sense, Hezbollah had prepared for the wrong war. Long range missiles and short range Katyusha rockets designed for a war against Israel were now of little use. Chinese anti-ship missiles as well as concealed anti-tank and short range missiles in south Lebanon facing Israel seemed of little military value when the real threat to Hezbollah came from across the long and ragged border with Syria. Hezbollah did not anticipate this and was ill prepared for irregular warfare and border control. It has resorted to erecting fixed positions not unlike what the Israelis erected in south Lebanon.

The battles by the Syrian Army and Hezbollah 18 months ago to control the Damascus-Homs highway drove several thousand Jabhat al-Nusra fighters into the Qalamoun plateau, an area roughly 60 by 20 kilometers straddling Lebanon and Syria. Isolated from Syria, the town of Arsal in Lebanon was the logistical base supplying the insurgents. On August 2 in a surprise attack, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State struck the LAF in Arsal. Though 36 military personnel were taken hostage, the LAF quickly repulsed the attack, putting to good use its Hellfire-armed Cessna with a ground counteroffensive. The insurgents suffered an estimated 150 to 200 casualties.

Having given up on Arsal, the Syrian insurgents most recently attacked ten Hezbollah positions. The attack on one position, Nabi Sbat in Lebanon, was seen in a video that showed the position being stormed and the bodies of several Hezbollah fighters. A booty consisting of TOW missiles (probably of the Iranian type) was also shown. It is rumored that out of 60 or so Hezbollah fighters, many fled. On the Syrian side of Qalamoun in Asal al-Ward, several Hezbollah fighters were reportedly taken prisoner, among them an 18-year-old who was shown on YouTube pleading for his life. Hassan Nasrallah had to appear in military fatigues in east Lebanon to shore up the morale of Shi‘i towns and fighters.

The Syrian conflict has been detrimental to Hezbollah's political standing as well. In addition to antagonizing the Sunni Lebanese and Palestinians, Hezbollah’s involvement inflamed sectarian tensions. Despite a few Sunni defections, the LAF shows little signs of fracturing though Sunnis constitute almost half of the forces. In a recent bold move, the LAF took control of Tripoli, the second largest and predominantly Sunni city in north Lebanon with a sizeable Alawi community. Tripoli had been a hotbed of Sunni radicalism and had seen violent clashes between Sunni radicals and Alawi fighters supported by Hezbollah. The LAF move was endorsed by all Lebanese leaders, including those from the Sunni community.

Thus, despite sectarian tensions the LAF has overwhelming popular support in countering extremism and terrorism. In contrast, Hezbollah has lost ground politically and is overstretched militarily.

The political void Hezbollah has left behind is gradually being replaced by a more assertive LAF. 

LAF monitoring towers are being erected in sensitive areas along the Lebanese-Syrian border, to which Hezbollah would not have acquiesced three years ago. An offer by Iran to supply the LAF with ammunition and light weapons, which would endanger U.S. support, was politely rejected by the Lebanese government. A Saudi gift of $3 billion will further boost the capabilities of the LAF.

The most immediate danger to Lebanon is not from an ISIS incursion from Syria, but would be from a fracturing of the LAF due to sectarian tensions. By remaining a united, effective force with widespread popular support, the LAF has thus far helped Lebanon weather the sectarian storm. As the dust settles on a politically isolated and militarily weary Hezbollah, only a strong LAF can ensure a smooth transition to sovereignty and normalcy.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

West Ready to Cave on Iran Full Disclosure Demands

From The Tower, 22 Nov 2014:

[Photo: PersianMedia / YouTube]

The Western nations currently negotiating with Iran over the fate of the country’s illicit nuclear program will “likely stop short of demanding full disclosure of any secret weapon work by Tehran,” according to a report in Reuters:
Officially, the United States and its Western allies say it is vital that Iran fully addresses the concerns of the U.N. nuclear agency if it wants a diplomatic settlement that would end sanctions severely hurting its oil-based economy. 
“Iran’s previous activities have to come to light and be explained,” a senior Western diplomat said. 
Privately, however, some officials acknowledge that Iran would probably never admit to what they believe it was guilty of: covertly working in the past to develop the means and expertise needed to build a nuclear-armed missile.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear watchdog, has long demanded that Iran come clean about the possible military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has consistently stonewalled IAEA investigations into this matter; earlier this week, IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano stated that “Iran has not provided any explanations that enable the agency to clarify” the issue.

Reuters continued, quoting a flabbergasted Western official:
“I believe the PMD issue is not a deal-breaker even though it probably should be,” another Western official said. The official added that many inside the IAEA and Western governments shared concerns about the deadlocked investigation and felt uneasy about compromising on the issue.
UN Security Council Resolution 1929, passed in 2010 with the approval of all parties currently negotiating with Iran, called on the Islamic Republic to “cooperate fully with the IAEA on all outstanding issues, particularly those which give rise to concerns about the possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear programme, including by providing access without delay to all sites, equipment, persons and documents requested by the IAEA.”

If the Reuters report is true, it reflects a change in the Obama Administration’s longstanding demand that Iran fully disclose its PMD. As Barack Obama said in September 2009, “Iran is on notice that when we meet with them on Oct. 1, they are going to have to come clean.” During confirmation hearings to be appointed Secretary of State in 2013, John Kerry, who is currently negotiating with the Iranians in Vienna, said that “The president has made it definitive” that Iran needs to answer all “questions surrounding Iran’s nuclear program.”

A senior Western official told Reuters that they are working at “being creative” at resolving this issue.

BDS is racist, in more ways than one...

From the UK Telegraph, 20 Nov 2014, by Alan Johnson:

...[An] anti-Zionist ideology (a system of demonising ideas and representations about Israel and the Jews) now exercises [a profound influence] in our culture. 

At the heart of the ideology is a deeply buried, often unconscious, assumption about the dichotomous natures of Israelis and Palestinians that warps our understanding of the conflict...:
Palestinians (and Arabs in general) do not have agency and choice, and so cannot be held accountable and responsible. Israelis do and can; always, and exclusively. 
Palestinians are understood as a driven people, dominated by circumstance and emotion, lacking choice, below the age of responsibility, never to be held accountable. Israelis are the opposite; masters of all circumstances, rational and calculating, the root cause of everything, responsible for everything. 
It is, palpably, an Orientalist view of the Palestinians as the Other, except this time they are affirmed as noble savages. It’s a bit racist, to be honest. For example, the Liberal Democrat David Ward MP tweeted that the Palestinian synagogue terrorists had been "driven to madness" - which not only removes agency from them but also sanity.

This groupthink is the reason that parts of the media are reluctant to challenge the Palestinian national movement when it is guilty of rejectionism, terrorism, authoritarianism, corruption and the promotion of a vile culture of incitement, demonization and antisemitism.

After all, those things are just not the "the Israel story", are they? As Matt Seaton, comment editor at the New York Times, tweeted recently, his opinion pages will only cover Palestinian racism when “they have [a] sovereign state to discriminate with.”

The world view is being spread by ...public intellectuals. They are shaping much of the debate about the conflict in Britain because their ideas are not remaining in the seminar room but are being 'translated' and popularised by determined activists with status and authority in universities, churches, trade unions, NGOs, political parties and popular culture.

• Academic and writer Jacqueline Rose says Israel is “the agent” that is responsible for Palestinian suicide terrorism. She uncritically passes on to her readers a defence of the suicide bomber given by Hamas leader Abdul Aziz al-Ratansi (“If he wants to sacrifice his soul in order to defeat the enemy and for God’s sake – well, then he’s a martyr”).

• The Israeli novelist (and Peace Now founder) Amos Oz complains that incitement by extremist Palestinian intellectuals leads some Palestinians to be “suffocated and poisoned by blind hate.” The anti-Zionist writer Yitzhak Laor is outraged, denouncing Oz for… “incitement” against the Palestinians.

• Shlomo Sand - whose books are found in Waterstones stores across the UK –expresses his disgust at Jewish Israeli intellectuals who opposed Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. Now, Saddam was firing scud missiles at Israeli civilians at the time, so how did he justify his stance? Palestinians felt “joy” at an ““Arab” show of force”, he wrote, and that should have been decisive. 

• Ilan Pappe’s recent book The Idea of Israel (Summary: it was a very Bad Idea and should now be Corrected) offers an apologia for the pro-Nazi war-time Palestinian leader Al-Husseini. So keen was Al-Husseini on Adolf that he formed a Muslim SS Unit, but Pappe reduces all this to “an episode” in the “complex” life of a nationalist; a “foolish flirtation” that should only be of interest to the reader because it has been exploited by Zionists to “demonise” the Palestinians. Pappe argues that Al-Husseini was – here it comes! - “forced” into the alliance with Hitler. 

The idea that good/innocent/authentic Palestinians are in a Manichean struggle against bad/guilty/inauthentic Israelis is part of a mind-set - a "theory" of sorts - that became dominant on much of the Left after the 1960s. Let’s call it reactionary anti-imperialism. It divides the world, and everything in it, into two opposed “camps”: Imperialism versus Anti-Imperialism. 

Anyone shooting at Imperialism (the USA, the UK, Israel, "the West", "the Global North", or just "the Man") is now part of the progressive anti-imperialist “resistance” to imperialism. Once in thrall to this ‘theory’, parts of the left redefined themselves as (not very) critical supporters of, or at least apologists for, the reactionary forces doing the shooting, including radical Islamists. 

Here is the Socialist Workers Party theoretician John Molyneux instructing the members in the finer points of reactionary anti-imperialism: 
"To put the matter as starkly as possible: from the standpoint of Marxism and international socialism an illiterate conservative superstitious Muslim Palestinian peasant who supports Hamas is more progressive than an educated liberal atheist Israeli who supports Zionism (even critically)." 
And here is Judith Butler - a professor at Berkeley a...drawing the political conclusions: 
“[Hamas and Hezbollah are] social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left.” 
(See 16:24 in this video.) 

...anti-Zionist ideology, the ludicrously simplistic assumptions it makes about Palestinians and Israelis, and the demonising/exculpatory framework through which it distorts our understanding of the conflict, is now bleeding from the cloisters of academia into those wider structures of feeling and patterns of response that shape our public square.... 

Turkey roast

From Times of Israel, November 21, 2014, bAvi Issacharoff:

Israel has arrested dozens of members of a Hamas terror network operating throughout the West Bank in recent weeks who were planning a series of attacks against Israeli targets, senior Palestinian officials told The Times of Israel. The network...was funded and directed by Hamas officials in Turkey who have set up a de facto command center in the Muslim country.

The network was similar in its operational characteristics to one uncovered in August during the war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the officials said Thursday night, adding that according to information received from Israel, this terror ring was even larger. Its operatives had already attempted several attacks against Israel, they added, but they had all failed.

As with the previous network, the man behind the terrorist grouping was Saleh al-Arouri, a Hamas leader who was deported from the West Bank to Turkey in 2010, the sources said.
Arouri, they said, built up and funded the network, and has effectively established a Hamas command post in Turkey which is leading terror efforts in the West Bank. Arouri is reportedly aided by dozens of operatives, some of whom were deported by Israel in the wake of the Gilad Shalit prisoner deal in 2011.

Hamas operative Saleh al-Arouri (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)
Hamas operative Saleh al-Arouri 
(photo credit: YouTube screenshot)

The officials accused Turkey as well as Qatar — the current home of Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal — of enabling Hamas to operate freely within their territories to carry out attacks against Israel and undermine the Palestinian Authority.

In August, Israel’s Shin Bet security service said it had arrested over 90 operatives and thwarted a Hamas coup attempt in the West Bank aimed at toppling PA President Mahmoud Abbas and starting a third intifada uprising.

The Palestinian sources, however, maintained Thursday that the two networks were more concerned with carrying out attacks against Israeli military and settler targets in the West Bank. A rough Israeli response and the consequent weakening of the PA was a secondary objective, they said.
The officials added that several Hamas operatives connected to the recently uncovered network were also being held in PA detention facilities.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaking at a meeting in the Knesset to discuss Operation Protective Edge, on August 4, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaking at a meeting in the Knesset to discuss Operation Protective Edge, on August 4, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

On Thursday the Shin Bet said it foiled a Palestinian plan to assassinate Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman during the summer war. A group of Hamas members from near Bethlehem in the West Bank planned to purchase a rocket-propelled grenade, which would be shot at Liberman, who lives in an Israeli settlement in the area.

The group gathered intelligence on Liberman’s convoy to carry out the attack, according to the Shin Bet, and turned to Hamas officials in the area for help in acquiring the RPG. Israeli officials said they also uncovered during the interrogations Hamas plans to fire weapons and carry out hit-and-run attacks against settlers and Israeli troops in the area....

See also 

Erdogan: Israeli Attack on Al-Aqsa Is Attack on Turkey (Zaman-Turkey)
Speaking in Algeria on Wednesday, Turkish President Erdogan said, "Israel's barbaric attack on the Al-Aqsa Mosque is tantamount to an attack on Turkey and Algeria because Al-Aqsa Mosque belongs to all of us."

Turkey had previously called on other Muslim countries to display a joint position to protest the actions of Israel.

Israel: Erdogan Rhetoric Befits Tehran or Damascus, Not a NATO Capital - Herb Keinon (Jerusalem Post)
Responding to Turkish President Erdogan's remarks, one government official said that Israel has been facing "a malicious campaign of slander concerning a so-called threat to Al-Aqsa. This campaign has been led by Islamist extremists who claim there is a Jewish threat to Al-Aqsa. This is baseless and ridiculous, it is slander that has no relationship to the truth whatsoever."

"Ultimately this sort of extremist and malicious rhetoric is what one expects to hear from Tehran and Damascus, not from a NATO capital."

No choice but war?

From JPost, 22 Nov 2014, by Michael Wilner:
Israel Air Force planes fly over Tel Aviv.

WASHINGTON – Historic negotiations with Iran will reach an inflection point on Monday, as world powers seek to clinch a comprehensive deal that will, to their satisfaction, end concerns over the nature of its vast, decade-old nuclear program.

... Israel has issued a stark, public warning to its allies with a clear argument: Current proposals guarantee the perpetuation of a crisis, backing Israel into a corner from which military force against Iran provides the only logical exit.

The deal on the table
World powers have presented Iran with an accord that would restrict its nuclear program for ten years and cap its ability to produce fissile material for a weapon during that time to a minimum nine-month period.

Should Tehran agree, the deal may rely on Russia to convert Iran's current uranium stockpile into fuel rods for peaceful use. The proposal would also include an inspection regime that would attempt to follow the program's entire supply chain, from the mining of raw material to the syphoning of that material to various nuclear facilities across Iran.

Israel's leaders believe the best of a worst-case scenario, should that deal be reached, is for inspections to go perfectly and for Iran to choose to abide by the deal for the entire decade-long period.

But "our intelligence agencies are not perfect," an Israeli official said. "We did not know for years about Natanz and Qom. And inspection regimes are certainly not perfect. They weren't in the case in North Korea, and it isn't the case now – Iran's been giving the IAEA the run around for years about its past activities."

"What's going to happen with that?" the official continued. "Are they going to sweep that under the rug if there's a deal?"

On Saturday afternoon, reports from Vienna suggested the P5+1 – the US, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany – are willing to stop short of demanding full disclosure of any secret weapon work by Tehran.

... compounding Israel's fears, the proposal Jerusalem has seen shows that mass dismantlement of Iran's nuclear infrastructure – including the destruction, and not the mere warehousing, of its parts – is no longer on the table in Vienna.

"Iran's not being asked to dismantle the nuclear infrastructure," the Israeli official said, having seen the proposal before the weekend. "Right now what they're talking about is something very different. They're talking about Ayatollah Khamenei allowing the P5+1 to save face."

Officials in the Netanyahu government are satisfied that their ideas and concerns have been given a fair hearing by their American counterparts. They praise the US for granting Israel unprecedented visibility into the process. 

But while those discussions may have affected the talks at the margins, large gaps – on whether to grant Iran the right to enrich uranium, or allow it to keep much of its infrastructure – have remained largely unaddressed.

"It's like the chemical weapons deal in Syria," the official said. "They didn't just say: Here, let's get rid of the stockpile and the weapons, but we will leave all the plants and assembly lines."

'Sunset clause'
Yet, more than any single enforcement standard or cap included in the deal, Israel believes the Achilles' heel of the proposed agreement is its definitive end date – the sunset clause.

"You've not dismantled the infrastructure, you've basically tried to put limits that you think are going to be monitored by inspectors and intelligence," said the official, "and then after this period of time, Iran is basically free to do whatever it wants."

The Obama administration also rejects this claim. By e-mail, the senior US administration official said that, "'following successful implementation of the final step of the comprehensive solution for its duration, the Iranian nuclear program will be treated in the same manner as that of any non-nuclear weapon state party to the NPT – with an emphasis on non-nuclear weapon."

"That has in no way changed," the American official continued, quoting the interim Joint Plan of Action reached last year.

But the treatment of Iran as any other signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty –189 countries are members, including Iran – would allow Tehran to ultimately acquire "an industrial-sized capability," the Israelis say. "The breakout times [to a nuclear weapon] will be effectively zero."

Israel and world powers seek to maximize the amount of time they would have to identify non-compliance from a nuclear deal, should Iran choose to defy its tenets and build a bomb.

But in the deal under discussion in Vienna, Iran would be able to comply with international standards for a decade and, from Israel's perspective, then walk, not sneak, into the nuclear club.

"You've not only created a deal that leaves Iran as a threshold nuclear power today, because they have the capability to break out quickly if they wanted to," the Israeli official contended. "But you've also legitimized Iran as a military nuclear power in the future."

From the moment this deal is clinched, Israel fears it will guarantee Iran as a military nuclear power. There will be no off ramp, because Iran's reentry into the international community will be fixed, a fait accompli, by the very powers trying to contain it.

"The statement that says we've prevented them from having a nuclear weapon is not a true statement," the Israeli official continued. "What you've said is, you're going to put restrictions on Iran for a given number of years, after which there will be no restrictions and no sanctions. That's the deal that's on the table."

Revisiting the use of force
Without an exit ramp, Israel insists its hands will not be tied by an agreement reached this week, this month or next, should it contain a clause that ultimately normalizes Iran's home-grown enrichment program.

...By framing the deal as fundamentally flawed, regardless of its enforcement, Israel is telling the world that it will not wait to see whether inspectors do their jobs as ordered.

"Ten, fifteen years in the life of a politician is a long time," the Israeli said, in a vague swipe against the political directors now scrambling in Vienna. "In the life of a nation, it's nothing."...