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Archive for May, 2012

Student Rights – Challenging Extremists: Practical frameworks for our universities

May 31st, 2012 Comments off

An update on my post earlier this week about Student Rights/Henry Jackson Society’s’ "Challenging Extremists" report. The link to the report is below. I haven’t read the report yet: Rupert Sutton & Hannah Stuart, Student Rights – Challenging Extremists: Practical frameworks for our universities (pdf)
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Flame update

May 31st, 2012 Comments off

Independent, Israel hints it may be behind ‘Flame’ super-virus targeting Iran, 29 May 2012 "A top Israeli minister yesterday fed speculation that the Jewish state could be responsible for a powerful new virus said to have been used in a fresh attack on computers in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East."

This was also useful:

Telegraph, Flame virus most powerful espionage tool ever, UN warns "
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Flame in Iran

May 31st, 2012 Comments off

Telegraph, Flame virus ‘has infected 189 systems in Iran’, 29 May 2012   "The most sophisticated computer virus the world has ever seen has infected 189 systems in Iran as part of its intelligence gathering functions, experts said"
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Sinai Kidnapping of US Tourists May Draw More Attention to Growing Anarchy

May 31st, 2012 Comments off

The kidnapping of two US tourists from near Dahab on the “Sinai riviera” is only the most recent in a long string of tourist kidnappings in Sinai, mostly aimed at forcing the Egyptian government to release prisoners or to concede other demands. Though CNN has confirmed through an interview with one of them that the two tourists were still in custody despite Egyptian claims they had been released, they probably will be released safely, as was the case with two other Americans in February. But the US media has paid little attention to the continuing wave of abductions of tourists, most of them not from the US.

Since the withdrawal of police during the Egyptian revolution, Sinai has increasingly become a Wild West no-man’s-land where increasingly radical Islamist and jihadi groups are operating freely in some cases operating from a core of former prisoners who escaped during the revolution and have been operating in Sinai, drawing recruits from long-disgruntled local Bedouin tribes who have long felt neglected by Cairo. Not all these incidents, however, involve radical groups; some are simply tribal vendettas, and the current case is reportedly aimed at freeing a tribesman arrested for drug offenses.

The fact that Sinai is the crucial buffer between Egypt and Israel and that incidents along the border, including rocket attacks inside Israel, have occurred has raised the danger of a major confrontation with Israel. Under the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, Egypt is limited in how many military troops it can deploy, but there has been cooperation in the past on security in Sinai, though Israel has also warned that it will protect its border security unilaterally if necessary.

The security of Sinai is, along with the economic crisis, sure to be high on the agenda of Egypt’s incoming President.


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SCAF Lifts State of Emergency in Egypt

May 31st, 2012 Comments off

Egypt’s State of Emergency, in continuous force for nearly 31 years, will end at midnight tonight, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has announced, SCAF has also “reassured” the country that it will maintain security until the handover of power June 30.

The State of Emergency, which has been in force since the assassination of Anwar Sadat, has provided the legal justification for a wide range of measures, including trying civilians in military courts.

Though most headlines are emphasizing that the Emergency lasted 31 years, in fact Egypt was also under a State of Emergency from the June 1967 War until after the original Camp David accords. That was lifted in 1980, but some 18 months later Sadat was assassinated in October 1981. So except for that 18-month period, Egypt has been under an Emergency for 45 years.


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Al-Qaeda fighters clash with Yemeni troops

May 31st, 2012 Comments off

"A brief, more limited “mopping up” operation in Lebanon"

May 31st, 2012 Comments off

“…The emergence of a de facto sanctuary in northern Lebanon for the Free Syrian Army poses a particular challenge for the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati. Instructing the Lebanese army to seal off the border would be bitterly divisive domestically, but failure to act decisively could lead, sooner or later, to direct Syrian intervention.The signs are there. The Lebanese authorities have already received several warnings from Syria demanding an end to the flow of rebels and weapons across their common border. Journalists with access to decision-makers in Damascus relay the message that the Mikati government’s policy of “warding off evil” — i.e. formal neutrality — is no longer tolerable, …….Rifaat Ali Eid is the head of the pro-Syrian Arab Democratic Party and a leading political figure in the small Alawi community in Tripoli, which has come under attack from armed Sunni militants, reportedly backed by fugitive Syrian rebels. He has given the clearest signal yet of the Syrian government’s possible intentions: “If Lebanon enters the unknown,” he predicted in mid-May, “an Arab army will intervene … the UN will request the Syrian army to enter north Lebanon to resolve the situation there, because it is the most knowledgeable and capable Arab army in this regard.”
Eid is a marginal figure in Lebanese politics, but Syria’s intervention in Lebanon in 1976 followed the same sequence: private warnings delivered by former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Lebanese Left; public hints of Syrian intentions issued by Palestinian and Lebanese parties and media affiliated to the Syrian regime; and the claim that Syria was responding to an appeal for protection from Christian leaders. When these warnings failed [to produce the desired outcome], a Syrian armored brigade entered Lebanon and stopped just across the border. It was the forerunner of a major Syrian force deployment, which entered Lebanon two months later.
There are several obstacles to a significant Syrian intervention in Lebanon in 2012….. However, the Syrian regime may regard a brief, more limited “mopping up” operation in the border zone as a dual deterrent. This kind of operation could serve both to underscore to the Lebanese the potential costs of granting sanctuary to Syrian rebels, as well as to demonstrate the regime’s determination and capacity to act, thus discouraging other neighboring countries from allowing similar sanctuaries on their soil. A limited cross-border operation in northern Lebanon would act as a “dress rehearsal” for the wider armed conflict that may develop if the Syrian crisis degenerates into full civil war, or the Friends of Syria gear up for their own military intervention.

There would be other advantages to a cross-border intervention from the Syrian regime’s perspective. The United States would no doubt condemn an incursion into Lebanon, but its stance would be complicated by its own concern, shared by other Western governments, about the possible emergence of al-Qaeda-style jihadism in Tripoli. Its inclination to assist the Lebanese Army might similarly be tempered by a reluctance to get overly involved with a government in which Hezbollah is represented. Russia is likely to regard a limited Syrian operation as a legitimate act of self-defense, despite recent statements by its foreign minister holding the Assad regime primarily responsible for the bloodshed in Syria.
The reactions of Syria’s other neighbors would be no less complex. Turkey would certainly protest a Syrian incursion into Lebanon; but it has repeatedly sent its own military into northern Iraq in pursuit of guerrillas from the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK), and may yet claim the right to act similarly against them in northern Syria, where their presence has increased. Iraq, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the Arab League’s council of foreign ministers, has its own problems with Sunni militants and is reported to have exchanged information with Syrian intelligence over the infiltration of jihadists from its territory into Syria. Jordan, whose king was the first Arab leader to call on Assad to step down last year, has tightened controls over the smuggling of arms destined for Syrian rebels across its border, and has seen its trade with Syria actually increase since the economic embargo was declared last November….”



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No more social buttons

May 31st, 2012 Comments off

I’ve decided to remove the tweet, like, g+ and what not buttons from the blog. To make things load faster, and because I came across this. (I am highly impressionable.) One day I might disable comments on the shorter posts too, when the Arabist redesign comes along (maybe this summer), and replace them with email.

Complain if you want.



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Categories: Arab Blogs Tags: Arabist, blog, email, redesign, tweet

Some Questions on the Houla Massacre…and Beyond

May 31st, 2012 Comments off
My latest blog post for Al-Akhbar English:  “Some Questions on the Houla Massacre…and Beyond

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Categories: Arab Blogs Tags: Al-Akhbar, Houla, post, Source

Arabian War Games

May 31st, 2012 Comments off
The author of this book, Arabian War Games: Cataclysmic Wars Redraw The Map of the Middle East (iuniverse), is Ali Al-Shihabi.  Ali (a Saudi citizen) and I were friends at IC at age 14 but Ali left Lebanon shortly after the breakout of the Lebanese civil war in 1975.  I remember that we used to have heated political discussions then: he would defend the conservative Saudi government and I would–well, you know where Angry Arab stands, and you can extrapolate that on the past.  We both shared deep interest in politics back then and out disagreements (unusually for me) never became acrimonious.  We have not seen each other since except once in the 1980s when I moved to Washington, DC to pursue my PhD.  Ali studied in the US and then founded an investment bank in Dubai (and he sits on the board of the MBC broadcasting network).  He recently sent me a copy of his book, and I only promised him a fair reading although he expected that I would trash it.  As I started reading it, I was pleasantly surprised: 1) Ali has maintained his deep interest in politics despite his chosen career; 2) he maintains a healthy hostility to Zionism and to Israel and is very well-informed about Israeli crimes and designs; 3) he is familiar with the progressive literature against Israel and Zionism.  As I finished the book, I have this to say.  1) The book is certainly refreshingly original in its approach and scope: it is unique in its approach.  To imagine “cataclysmic” wars in the year 2013 (I wish he chose a year farther in the future) and to weave in the various conflicts of the region, is new.  2) Ali is an interesting story-teller and the book reads (in some parts) as a thriller.  3) I wish that Ali used less idiomatic American expressions in US and Israeli leadership meetings (and please, enough with “gentlemen” as an opening word for all statements made.)  And US officials call Netanyahu “Bibi” not Benjamin.    4) While the scenarios are rather interesting if a bit far-fetched, I would have suggested some tinkering with the plot if I had read the draft.  I think that the notion that Iran would advance to create an empire and that Israel would create an empire with little local resistance or international (in the case of the Iranian advance) is very unconvincing.  Ali has Iran advancing and taking over Bahrain, Kuwait, and parts of Saudi Arabia without much of an American response–so much so that Saudi Arabia had to resort to Pakistan’s help.  The portrayal of the US leadership deliberations are rather unrealistic: the US would have responded much more strongly and much more forcefully. If the occupation of Kuwait by Saddam led to such a massive US response, one can only imagine the US response in the event of an all-out Iranian assault on the Gulf.  Also, even in the case of an Israeli advance (where the size of Israel is increased four times and where the Arabs in Israel are expelled), the US would have responded differently: especially during an Iranian assault.  5) Here is a major weakness in the scenario: why would Israel choose to begin its massive war at a time when Iran is attacking Arab countries?  Would it not be wise for Israel to let Arab public opinion build up against Iran and just watch the developments from afar?  6) The portrayal of Israel leadership is very realistic and Ali’s fear from Zionist schemes to ethnically cleanse Arabs inside Israel is legitimate.  But his portrayal of Iranian leadership is less persuasive: there is less rationality to their debates than one expects. After all, and despite all the religious rhetoric and propaganda, the regime (even during Khumayni’s days when he accepted the cease-fire with Saddam) reveals itself to be rational and primarily concerned with its survival.  7) the book portrays the Shi`ites of the region as fifth columnists ready at any moment to follow Iran’s orders.  That is not quite the case, of course.  8) the portrayal of Hizbullah and its behavior is true about Hizbullah of the 1980s when the party was a mere tool of Iran.  Hasan Nasrallah is now probably more respected by the Supreme Leader than Ahmadinejad and his opinion probably carries more weight with him.  The notion that the Party would just follow without question an order from Iran without considering its own calculation is fallacious espeically if the order may bring about the downfall of the party.   In fact, Nasrallah spoke to that recently and said that Iran basically allows Hizbullah (i.e. Nasrallah) to determine its own course of action.  And the reference to Na’im Qasim as some powerful leader in the party is quite untrue.  He is probably the weakest among the men in the leadership.  And he basically (for his scenario) disregards the resistance powers of the party in the face of an all-out Israeli invasion.  9) The portrayal of the Saudi King in handling the crisis (and why is he still alive in 2013?) is very incompatible what our perception of the King as an illiterate and simple-minded man.  At least, Ali did not invoke a role for Khalid bin Sultan, and that saved the day (or the reading).  And US involvement in Saudi decision making is minimized.  10) I like that the author worked hard to keep information in the book pretty accurate and he is very knowledgeable about military affairs.  11) I think that the Mossad is far less capable and successful than what is portrayed in the book.  12) The Afterwards included some political observations and I wish that section was larger.  I agree with him that the peace process should be disregarded but I disagree with his solution: that Jordan would join in a federation with a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza (and with an association with Israel’s Arab minority).  No solution that allows the Zionist entity to remain on the land of Palestine is acceptable by me, of course.  His other political conclusions constitute a warning to Gulf states that the West would control their affairs (they don’t already?) if they don’t take matters into their own hands and create a unified Gulf state (including Yemen).  The author also has an in passing reference to the status of Shi`ites in the Gulf, although the constant references to them as “mobs” in the scenario can be seen as offensive.  It is a good read: I recommend it, political and methodological disagreements notwithstanding.   Finally, there are three trends in Saudi elite opinion:  one holds that Israel is and will always be the main threat and danger; a second opinion (reflected by Prince Salman’s media) holds that Iran is the main threat and danger; while a third view holds that both Israel and Iran are the main threat and danger. Ali adheres to the last view. 

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