31 Jul
With Heartland Threatened, Lebanon’s Shiites See Hezbollah as “Protector of the Community”: Q&A with Sahar Atrache | Ramy Srour
The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has engaged in intense fighting on the Syria-Lebanon border in recent weeks, as violence increasingly threatens to spill into the group’s heartland in Lebanon’s northeastern Bekaa Valley. As the Shiite militia clashed with Syrian rebel forces, including the al-Nusra Front, reports also emerged suggesting that the nephew of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah had been killed during the clashes.
Despite its heavy involvement in a war that increasingly shows signs of violent spillover into Lebanon, Hezbollah has been able to retain a great deal of support from the Lebanese Shiite population, said Sahar Atrache, Lebanon analyst for the International Crisis Group, in a recent interview with the Global Observatory. Ms. Atrache, who is based in Beirut, indicated that the heavy casualties suffered by Lebanon’s Shiites because of the Syrian conflict have not altered the fact that Hezbollah is seen as “the protector of the community” against Sunni extremism.
FULL INTERVIEW (IPI Global Observatory)
Photo: Omarr/flickr

With Heartland Threatened, Lebanon’s Shiites See Hezbollah as “Protector of the Community”: Q&A with Sahar Atrache | Ramy Srour

The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has engaged in intense fighting on the Syria-Lebanon border in recent weeks, as violence increasingly threatens to spill into the group’s heartland in Lebanon’s northeastern Bekaa Valley. As the Shiite militia clashed with Syrian rebel forces, including the al-Nusra Front, reports also emerged suggesting that the nephew of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah had been killed during the clashes.

Despite its heavy involvement in a war that increasingly shows signs of violent spillover into Lebanon, Hezbollah has been able to retain a great deal of support from the Lebanese Shiite population, said Sahar Atrache, Lebanon analyst for the International Crisis Group, in a recent interview with the Global Observatory. Ms. Atrache, who is based in Beirut, indicated that the heavy casualties suffered by Lebanon’s Shiites because of the Syrian conflict have not altered the fact that Hezbollah is seen as “the protector of the community” against Sunni extremism.

FULL INTERVIEW (IPI Global Observatory)

Photo: Omarr/flickr

Quest for Demilitarization of Gaza Is Seen Getting Netanyahu Only So Far | Jodi Rudoren
JERUSALEM — After years in which Israel’s prevailing approach to the Gaza Strip was a simple “quiet for quiet” demand, there is growing momentum around a new formula, “reconstruction for demilitarization.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is only the latest in a string of Israeli leaders who saw Gaza mainly as an irritant to be controlled with periodic crackdowns and as a roadblock to resolving the nation’s broader conflict with the Palestinians. But as Israel’s latest military bout with the Islamist Hamas faction, which dominates Gaza, has proved tougher than previous rounds, even Mr. Netanyahu has begun talking about Gaza’s need for “social and economic relief” from decade-old Israeli restrictions on trade and travel.
Mr. Netanyahu, who spent two months denouncing his Palestinian counterpart, President Mahmoud Abbas, for reconciling with Hamas, seems to be opening to the notion that a unity government led by Mr. Abbas might be the way to unlock Hamas’s hold on Gaza and quell violence. While these steps have won him some praise, analysts said they were still more tactical management than long-term strategy, and held little promise unless Mr. Netanyahu shifted positions on the larger Palestinian question.
FULL ARTICLE (New York Times)
Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi/flickr

Quest for Demilitarization of Gaza Is Seen Getting Netanyahu Only So Far | Jodi Rudoren

JERUSALEM — After years in which Israel’s prevailing approach to the Gaza Strip was a simple “quiet for quiet” demand, there is growing momentum around a new formula, “reconstruction for demilitarization.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is only the latest in a string of Israeli leaders who saw Gaza mainly as an irritant to be controlled with periodic crackdowns and as a roadblock to resolving the nation’s broader conflict with the Palestinians. But as Israel’s latest military bout with the Islamist Hamas faction, which dominates Gaza, has proved tougher than previous rounds, even Mr. Netanyahu has begun talking about Gaza’s need for “social and economic relief” from decade-old Israeli restrictions on trade and travel.

Mr. Netanyahu, who spent two months denouncing his Palestinian counterpart, President Mahmoud Abbas, for reconciling with Hamas, seems to be opening to the notion that a unity government led by Mr. Abbas might be the way to unlock Hamas’s hold on Gaza and quell violence. While these steps have won him some praise, analysts said they were still more tactical management than long-term strategy, and held little promise unless Mr. Netanyahu shifted positions on the larger Palestinian question.

FULL ARTICLE (New York Times)

Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi/flickr

30 Jul
ISIS Dominates Eastern Syria, Now Eyes Key Regime Bases | Karen Leigh
The major objectives: to overtake any remaining opposition groups and to start chipping away at areas under the Assad regime, as it began to do earlier this month in an attack on the government-held Shaar gas field.
Since reaping money and military equipment in a June offensive on the Iraqi city of Mosul, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has effectively opened the border between Syria and Iraq and pushed further east through Raqqa, Deir Ezzor and Hassakeh provinces, becoming the dominant force there over Jabhat al-Nusra and other groups.
Now it has two major objectives: to overtake any remaining opposition groups and to start chipping away at areas under the Assad regime, as it began to do this month in a bloody attack on the government-held Shaar gas field in Hama province.
"Crushing hostile rebel groups thus remains ISIS’s top strategic priority in Syria, and an escalation near Aleppo that coincided with regime gains there could go a long way towards accomplishing that goal," says Noah Bonsey, the Beirut-based senior Syria analyst at the International Crisis Group.
FULL ARTICLE (Syria Deeply)
Photo: Bilal.afghan/Wikimedia Commons

ISIS Dominates Eastern Syria, Now Eyes Key Regime Bases | Karen Leigh

The major objectives: to overtake any remaining opposition groups and to start chipping away at areas under the Assad regime, as it began to do earlier this month in an attack on the government-held Shaar gas field.

Since reaping money and military equipment in a June offensive on the Iraqi city of Mosul, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has effectively opened the border between Syria and Iraq and pushed further east through Raqqa, Deir Ezzor and Hassakeh provinces, becoming the dominant force there over Jabhat al-Nusra and other groups.

Now it has two major objectives: to overtake any remaining opposition groups and to start chipping away at areas under the Assad regime, as it began to do this month in a bloody attack on the government-held Shaar gas field in Hama province.

"Crushing hostile rebel groups thus remains ISIS’s top strategic priority in Syria, and an escalation near Aleppo that coincided with regime gains there could go a long way towards accomplishing that goal," says Noah Bonsey, the Beirut-based senior Syria analyst at the International Crisis Group.

FULL ARTICLE (Syria Deeply)

Photo: Bilal.afghan/Wikimedia Commons

Taliban ‘gaining ground’ as Afghan audit drags on | Gabriel Domínguez and Srinivas Mazumdaru
The election audit comes at a critical time for Afghanistan as the international community winds down its combat mission and foreign aid dwindles. The successful completion of the electoral process, which has been marred by allegations of widespread fraud between presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, is therefore key to ensure a peaceful transfer of power in the conflict-ridden country. However, attacks by the Taliban have intensified recently, with dozens of assaults reported last weekend alone.
Moreover, on July 29, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s powerful cousin, a close ally of presidential candidate Ghani, was killed in a suicide bomb attack, deepening political strains. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
In a DW interview, Graeme Smith, a senior Afghanistan analyst for the International Crisis Group (ICG), says there is no strong connection, so far, between the electoral crisis in Afghanistan and the rising number of insurgent attacks, but adds that the Taliban’s territorial gains are of symbolic importance as they show the militants’ ability to confront Afghan forces in face-to-face battle.
FULL INTERVIEW (Deutsche Welle)
Photo: U.S. Army/ flickr

Taliban ‘gaining ground’ as Afghan audit drags on | Gabriel Domínguez and Srinivas Mazumdaru

The election audit comes at a critical time for Afghanistan as the international community winds down its combat mission and foreign aid dwindles. The successful completion of the electoral process, which has been marred by allegations of widespread fraud between presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, is therefore key to ensure a peaceful transfer of power in the conflict-ridden country. However, attacks by the Taliban have intensified recently, with dozens of assaults reported last weekend alone.

Moreover, on July 29, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s powerful cousin, a close ally of presidential candidate Ghani, was killed in a suicide bomb attack, deepening political strains. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

In a DW interview, Graeme Smith, a senior Afghanistan analyst for the International Crisis Group (ICG), says there is no strong connection, so far, between the electoral crisis in Afghanistan and the rising number of insurgent attacks, but adds that the Taliban’s territorial gains are of symbolic importance as they show the militants’ ability to confront Afghan forces in face-to-face battle.

FULL INTERVIEW (Deutsche Welle)

Photo: U.S. Army/ flickr

The Man Who Haunts Israel | Michael Crowley
Khaled Mashaal lay dying in a hospital bed as poison flowed through his bloodstream, slowly shutting down his respiratory system. With a machine pumping air into his lungs, he had, at best, a few days to live. An antidote could save the Hamas leader’s life. But the only person who could provide it was the very man who had tried to kill him: Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
As the clock ticked down over four days in late September 1997, with Mashaal unconscious and steadily deteriorating, Netanyahu faced an excruciating choice. The Mossad agents who had sprayed poison into the Palestinian’s ear on a street in Amman, Jordan — in retribution for a series of suicide attacks within Israel — had been captured while fleeing. Jordan’s King Hussein vowed to put the Israelis on trial if Mashaal expired. The agents would likely face execution if convicted. Desperate to avert an international crisis that would derail his efforts to broker peace deals between Israel and its Arab enemies, President Bill Clinton intervened, insisting that Netanyahu, then serving the first of his two tenures as Israel’s prime minister, provide the antidote. The Israeli leader grudgingly complied, even traveling to Amman to issue a personal apology to the King. Mashaal was revived, his stature forever enhanced as “the living martyr.” Instead of killing one of Israel’s most despised enemies, Netanyahu had resurrected him.
Fifteen years later, in December 2012, Mashaal, in his trademark western suit and trim salt-and-pepper beard, stepped out of a giant replica of an M75 rocket in the heart of Gaza City to address a crowd of cheering Palestinians. “We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation, and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take,” he thundered, as the green missile — among the models Hamas is currently firing into Israel by the thousands — towered several stories over his head. “We will free Jerusalem inch by inch, stone by stone. Israel has no right to be in Jerusalem.”
FULL ARTICLE (TIME)
Photo: Trango/Wikimedia Commons

The Man Who Haunts Israel | Michael Crowley

Khaled Mashaal lay dying in a hospital bed as poison flowed through his bloodstream, slowly shutting down his respiratory system. With a machine pumping air into his lungs, he had, at best, a few days to live. An antidote could save the Hamas leader’s life. But the only person who could provide it was the very man who had tried to kill him: Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

As the clock ticked down over four days in late September 1997, with Mashaal unconscious and steadily deteriorating, Netanyahu faced an excruciating choice. The Mossad agents who had sprayed poison into the Palestinian’s ear on a street in Amman, Jordan — in retribution for a series of suicide attacks within Israel — had been captured while fleeing. Jordan’s King Hussein vowed to put the Israelis on trial if Mashaal expired. The agents would likely face execution if convicted. Desperate to avert an international crisis that would derail his efforts to broker peace deals between Israel and its Arab enemies, President Bill Clinton intervened, insisting that Netanyahu, then serving the first of his two tenures as Israel’s prime minister, provide the antidote. The Israeli leader grudgingly complied, even traveling to Amman to issue a personal apology to the King. Mashaal was revived, his stature forever enhanced as “the living martyr.” Instead of killing one of Israel’s most despised enemies, Netanyahu had resurrected him.

Fifteen years later, in December 2012, Mashaal, in his trademark western suit and trim salt-and-pepper beard, stepped out of a giant replica of an M75 rocket in the heart of Gaza City to address a crowd of cheering Palestinians. “We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation, and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take,” he thundered, as the green missile — among the models Hamas is currently firing into Israel by the thousands — towered several stories over his head. “We will free Jerusalem inch by inch, stone by stone. Israel has no right to be in Jerusalem.”

FULL ARTICLE (TIME)

Photo: Trango/Wikimedia Commons

29 Jul
American aid to Israel doesn’t seem to buy any leverage. Why? | Zack Beauchamp 
It’s been a bad year for US diplomacy in Israel-Palestine. Both major pushes by Secretary of State John Kerry to negotiate some kind of deal — first the Palestinian Authority-Israel peace framework negotiations in mid-2014, then a Hamas-Israel ceasefire this weekend — have failed. About 24 hours after Kerry’s proposed cease fire fell apart, Kerry was still defending his approach from fierce Israeli and Palestinian criticism.
The US, it turns out, does not have quite as much ability to nudge its Israeli allies as you might think. The United States failed to get a permanent settlement freeze in 2009, couldn’t get Israelis to agree to a framework for peace negotiations the Palestinians would accept (and vice versa), and hasn’t made any headway on the “immediate ceasefire" in Gaza that President Obama has repeatedly called for. This all seems strange on the surface: the US is a superpower, provides about $3 billion in aid to Israel every year, and uses its veto to protect Israel at the United Nations when no one else will. So why hasn’t the US been able to force Israel to see things its way? Why does it appear to have so little leverage?
FULL ARTICLE (VOX)
Photo: Matty Ster/flickr

American aid to Israel doesn’t seem to buy any leverage. Why? | Zack Beauchamp 

It’s been a bad year for US diplomacy in Israel-Palestine. Both major pushes by Secretary of State John Kerry to negotiate some kind of deal — first the Palestinian Authority-Israel peace framework negotiations in mid-2014, then a Hamas-Israel ceasefire this weekend — have failed. About 24 hours after Kerry’s proposed cease fire fell apart, Kerry was still defending his approach from fierce Israeli and Palestinian criticism.

The US, it turns out, does not have quite as much ability to nudge its Israeli allies as you might think. The United States failed to get a permanent settlement freeze in 2009, couldn’t get Israelis to agree to a framework for peace negotiations the Palestinians would accept (and vice versa), and hasn’t made any headway on the “immediate ceasefire" in Gaza that President Obama has repeatedly called for. This all seems strange on the surface: the US is a superpower, provides about $3 billion in aid to Israel every year, and uses its veto to protect Israel at the United Nations when no one else will. So why hasn’t the US been able to force Israel to see things its way? Why does it appear to have so little leverage?

FULL ARTICLE (VOX)

Photo: Matty Ster/flickr

Civilian Casualties in Gaza Slated to Rise as Israel, Hamas Intensify Fighting | David Stout
Any semblance of a possible ceasefire in the restive Palestinian coastal strip withered as fighting intensified throughout Monday night and into Tuesday morning
Chances of peace in the Gaza Strip looked very remote Tuesday morning, as Hamas militants penetrated Israel, and Israeli forces ratcheted up their military offensive in the Palestinian coastal territory.
Israeli aircraft, artillery and ground troops continued to pummel the conflict-ridden enclave after a raft of proposed humanitarian truces discussed over the weekend ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid el-Fitr ultimately failed to take root.
Live feeds broadcasted online throughout Monday night and into the early hours of Tuesday provided outsiders with a glimpse of the grim reality of life inside the besieged territory, as Operation Protective Edge entered its third week. Drones hummed out of sight and illumination flares cast an eerie light over Gaza’s skyline, while explosions rumbled in the darkness.
FULL ARTICLE (TIME)
Photo: Mohammed Al Baba/Flickr

Civilian Casualties in Gaza Slated to Rise as Israel, Hamas Intensify Fighting | David Stout

Any semblance of a possible ceasefire in the restive Palestinian coastal strip withered as fighting intensified throughout Monday night and into Tuesday morning

Chances of peace in the Gaza Strip looked very remote Tuesday morning, as Hamas militants penetrated Israel, and Israeli forces ratcheted up their military offensive in the Palestinian coastal territory.

Israeli aircraft, artillery and ground troops continued to pummel the conflict-ridden enclave after a raft of proposed humanitarian truces discussed over the weekend ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid el-Fitr ultimately failed to take root.

Live feeds broadcasted online throughout Monday night and into the early hours of Tuesday provided outsiders with a glimpse of the grim reality of life inside the besieged territory, as Operation Protective Edge entered its third week. Drones hummed out of sight and illumination flares cast an eerie light over Gaza’s skyline, while explosions rumbled in the darkness.

FULL ARTICLE (TIME)

Photo: Mohammed Al Baba/Flickr

Still Torn by Factional Fighting, Post-Revolt Libya Is Coming Undone | Kareem Fahim
CAIRO — For weeks, rival Libyan militias had been pounding one another’s positions with artillery, mortar rounds and rockets in a desperate fight to control the international airport in the capital, Tripoli. Then suddenly, early Saturday morning, the fighting just stopped.
The pause came as United States military warplanes circled overhead, providing air cover for a predawn evacuation of the American Embassy’s staff. Apparently fearing the planes, the militias held their fire just long enough for the ambassador and her staff to reach the Tunisian border — a reminder to Libyans of how even their most powerful allies were incapable of putting out their incendiary feuds.
FULL ARTICLE (The New York Times)
Photo: Kadir Aksoy/flickr

Still Torn by Factional Fighting, Post-Revolt Libya Is Coming Undone | Kareem Fahim

CAIRO — For weeks, rival Libyan militias had been pounding one another’s positions with artillery, mortar rounds and rockets in a desperate fight to control the international airport in the capital, Tripoli. Then suddenly, early Saturday morning, the fighting just stopped.

The pause came as United States military warplanes circled overhead, providing air cover for a predawn evacuation of the American Embassy’s staff. Apparently fearing the planes, the militias held their fire just long enough for the ambassador and her staff to reach the Tunisian border — a reminder to Libyans of how even their most powerful allies were incapable of putting out their incendiary feuds.

FULL ARTICLE (The New York Times)

Photo: Kadir Aksoy/flickr

Mehdi Hasan, the Huffington Post UK's political director, debunks 11 myths about Gaza, Hamas, and Israel, with some information from our Gaza/Israel briefing.
Read more at Huffington Post UK.
Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi/Flickr

Mehdi Hasan, the Huffington Post UK's political director, debunks 11 myths about Gaza, Hamas, and Israel, with some information from our Gaza/Israel briefing.

Read more at Huffington Post UK.

Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi/Flickr

No Such Thing as a Free Ride? ROK Missile Defence, Regional Missile Defence and OPCON Transfer | Daniel Pinkston
Daniel Pinkston is Crisis Group’s North East Asia Project Deputy Director.
In a previous post, we examined South Korean intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities as they relate to larger alliance dynamics and the issue of the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) military and wartime operational control (OPCON). South Korea also seeks to improve its missile defense (MD) capabilities. While ISR and MD are interrelated, the latter presents its own distinct set of regional and alliance-based issues.
"The U.S. has been keen to deploy more MD assets to the region given North Korea’s apparent determination to increase the quality, quantity and ranges of its missiles."
On 3 June, General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of United States Forces Korea (USFK), recommended the deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missiles to South Korea. These were the first public remarks by the U.S. military regarding such a deployment, following previous reports of U.S. defence officials stating that it was being considered. The THAAD system reportedly would serve as a more advanced missile-defense system to counter North Korean missile capabilities, which were most recently demonstrated by flight tests of the road-mobile Rodong missile, with a range of more than 1,000km.
While Washington has made no formal proposal to deploy THAAD to the ROK, the U.S. has begun an initial review and carried out site surveys of possible locations. The potential deployment of such a system highlights several ongoing issues that are both technical and highly political in nature. These include upgrading MD capabilities in response to an evolving North Korean threat; the potential expansion of the U.S.-led regional missile defence system, which is part of the U.S. rebalancing strategy in the region; and the ROK’s efforts to upgrade its own MD capabilities while simultaneously balancing its longstanding alliance with the U.S. and its deepening economic and political ties with China.
FULL ARTICLE (In Pursuit of Peace)
Photo: U.S. Missile Defense Agency

No Such Thing as a Free Ride? ROK Missile Defence, Regional Missile Defence and OPCON Transfer | Daniel Pinkston

Daniel Pinkston is Crisis Group’s North East Asia Project Deputy Director.

In a previous post, we examined South Korean intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities as they relate to larger alliance dynamics and the issue of the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) military and wartime operational control (OPCON). South Korea also seeks to improve its missile defense (MD) capabilities. While ISR and MD are interrelated, the latter presents its own distinct set of regional and alliance-based issues.

"The U.S. has been keen to deploy more MD assets to the region given North Korea’s apparent determination to increase the quality, quantity and ranges of its missiles."

On 3 June, General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of United States Forces Korea (USFK), recommended the deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missiles to South Korea. These were the first public remarks by the U.S. military regarding such a deployment, following previous reports of U.S. defence officials stating that it was being considered. The THAAD system reportedly would serve as a more advanced missile-defense system to counter North Korean missile capabilities, which were most recently demonstrated by flight tests of the road-mobile Rodong missile, with a range of more than 1,000km.

While Washington has made no formal proposal to deploy THAAD to the ROK, the U.S. has begun an initial review and carried out site surveys of possible locations. The potential deployment of such a system highlights several ongoing issues that are both technical and highly political in nature. These include upgrading MD capabilities in response to an evolving North Korean threat; the potential expansion of the U.S.-led regional missile defence system, which is part of the U.S. rebalancing strategy in the region; and the ROK’s efforts to upgrade its own MD capabilities while simultaneously balancing its longstanding alliance with the U.S. and its deepening economic and political ties with China.

FULL ARTICLE (In Pursuit of Peace)

Photo: U.S. Missile Defense Agency