Up until Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s talks with President Vladimir Putin Moscow on Wednesday Nov. 11, Israel made clear in every way possible – diplomatic and military – its resolve to prevent Iran and its proxies from establishing a presence in Syria, like reported by debka.com.
The resolve to remove Iran, Hizballah and the other Shiite militias under Revolutionary Guards command was emphasized for the umpteenth time on Tuesday, before Putin’s special emissaries. His special envoy Alexander Lavrentiev and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin arrived in Jerusalem for another try to shift Netanyahu from his all-or-nothing stance on Iran.
With them was a large Russian delegation of security and military officials from the Operations Division of the Russian General Staff and intelligence units specializing in Syrian affairs.
The prime minister complained about lack of trust after Putin’s repeated violations of his promises to Israel regarding Syria. But the biggest problem still be confronted is Iran’s intransigent determination to stay in Syria which is equal to Israel’s determination to drive this arch enemy off its Syrian doorstep.
This impasse was amply illustrated on Sunday.
Israel insisted on keeping up its military attacks on Iranian command posts and depots filled with new weapons constantly flown in to Syria, while deterred Hizballah and Iraqi, Afghan and Shiite militias were undeterred from advancing on Israel’s borders, even in Syrian army uniforms. This week they are shortening the distance to their goal day by day.
Putin can’t, or won’t, push the Iranians out of Syria to meet Netanyahu’s demand. Without the Iranian militias, the crumbling Syrian army is no shape for conducting substantial ground operations to recover all the areas still in rebel hands. The Iranian proxy input was pivotal in the battles two months ago around Damascus and now, too, in the ongoing Syrian offensives in the southwest.
And so, while Putin gave US President Donald Trump and the Israeli prime minister solemn promises to keep pro-Iranian forces out of the operations going forward in the south, at the same time, he deployed the Russian air force in their support for bombing rebel positions.
Netanyahu is meeting Putin Wednesday for the third time in six months. At each meeting, he was forced back into concessions to pay for Russia turning a blind eye to Israeli air strikes against Iranian targets in Syria. The prime minister first agreed to Iran and its proxies holding back in positions that were 80km from Israel’s border; he then agreed to 40km and now Israel is clinging to the 1974 Separation of Forces accord signed with Syria at the end of the Yom Kippur War.
This is tantamount to permission for the Syrian army and its (Iranian) allies to move up to 10km from the border and in some places only a few dozen meters from the Israeli Golan and Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) basin.
But even that Israeli concession is being whittled down. Tuesday night, the Russian UN mission led an Iranian and Syrian bid to curtail the authority of UNDOF, the international force monitoring the demilitarized zone marked out in the 1974 treaty. Once again, the Russians are two-timing Israel to protect Iran’s presence in Syria.
Until now, the IDF did not step in to arrest the serious slide in Israel’s strategic position vis a vis Iran’s menacing proximity to its northern border. It also silenced operations in the run-up to the prime minister’s meeting with Putin. But the price for Russia’s blind eye to Israel air strikes against Iranian targets has become excessive. Time has run out for deliberating whether this price was worthwhile or an inquiry into the failure of Israel’s often lethal air operations to break Iran’s resolve.
Hizballah and other Iranian cohorts are too close for Israel to indulge in soul-searching. Netanyahu’s critical conversation with Putin on Wednesday is the last one before Jerusalem decides whether to go to war in Syria against Iran, Hizballah and the militias.
Putin is not keen on another war front developing in Syria, but neither is he willing to throw the Iranians out. President Trump too is deeply reluctant to engage in any further military combat in Syria. So it is now up to Israel alone to make and carry through this fateful decision.
It is no secret that Daesh is regrouping in Iraq and Syria. It is also growing and spreading in Libya, Nigeria, the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and elsewhere in Africa, like reported by arabnews.com.
In Yemen, as security forces make gains against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Daesh is trying to fill the gap. The presence of Daesh is felt in the Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh and elsewhere. The group’s manifestations may go by different names and they may not be organically linked to the mother group, but these third generation offshoots are still lethal and have the potential to wreak greater havoc if the world lets its guard down.
The resurgence of Daesh should be of concern to all countries that have suffered at its hands — its recruitment of young men and women from all over the world, its unspeakable atrocities, in addition to imposing its ruthless and draconian rule over large populations.
The Global Coalition against Daesh was formed in September 2014 with the aim of degrading and ultimately defeating the terror group. The coalition’s 77 members have committed themselves to tackling Daesh on all fronts, to dismantling its networks and countering its global ambitions. Beyond the military campaign in Iraq and Syria, the coalition is working to disrupt its financing and economic tools, such as the exploitation of oil and other natural resources. It is working on stopping the flow of foreign terrorist fighters across borders. The coalition has publicly committed to stabilizing areas liberated from Daesh occupation and restoring essential public services. The coalition is also countering the group’s propaganda.
The Global Coalition has made great advances against Daesh in all of those areas. Militarily, it has dislodged the group from most of the territory it had occupied. Economically, it has starved it of many of its resources. It has slowed down and sometimes reversed the flow of foreign fighters to its various fronts. However, though greatly weakened, Daesh is surviving and is now regrouping and spreading. It is hard for many to believe that Daesh still has some appeal, given its many failures and the unspeakable crimes it has committed, but the group is a fact of life in many places.
What are the reasons for Daesh’s inexplicable survival? More importantly, what more needs to be done to speed up its demise and prevent a resurgence?
Conditions in Iraq and Syria, the places where Daesh was born and where it flourished, still provide a suitable environment for the group to survive. In Iraq, the post-election uncertainty has delayed the stabilization and development of areas liberated from Daesh. More than $30 billion was promised in February at the international reconstruction conference, but only a limited amount has been delivered due to that uncertainty.
Activities by pro-Iranian sectarian militias in and around the liberated areas have posed a threat to communities once under Daesh, making it easier for the terrorist group’s fighters to hide among the civilian population. Further, those militias are helping Iran ferry fighters and material from Iran, through Iraq and on to Syria. The fact that the coalition has not been able to stop those activities has provided Daesh with a useful propaganda tool as it positions itself against those militias.
In Syria, the military solution favored by the Syrian regime and its allies plays into the hands of Daesh and helps it survive. Assad and his allies have gone after moderate opposition groups, which were Daesh’s natural enemies. The relentless attacks against those forces, while sparing Daesh, will make it more difficult to defeat Daesh in Syria, despite the fall of Raqqa, its former seat of power. Some runaway militants from the defeated groups may even be tempted to join Daesh and affiliate themselves with it to survive.
Some countries have made no effort to bring their citizens-turned-militants back from the front lines in Syria and Iraq. Some have made it nearly impossible for them to go home, forcing them either to continue the fight or go somewhere else to join Daesh affiliates. The largest numbers of foreigners fighting with Daesh in Syria and Iraq come from Russia, mainly from its Muslim minorities. Russia has yet to develop programs to return them. Saudi Arabia and other countries have, for a while now, developed extensive programs to bring those fighters home to face justice and rehabilitation. There is no amnesty, but fighters are encouraged to surrender, come home and take advantage of those rehabilitation programs.
There is a need to provide a way out for foreign fighters, to encourage them to surrender and provide them with personal safety while awaiting trial. Their families, especially young children, should be extricated and taken home to protect them from abuse and exploitation, lest they become the next generation of terrorist fighters.
In most areas it is feasible and certainly necessary to expedite stabilization and development programs to create jobs and provide livelihoods for young people to prevent them from falling prey to recruitment by Daesh.
Finally, US threats of withdrawal from the fight can only play into Daesh’s hands. It may decide to wait out the Americans and reappear, stronger, after their departure.
In sum, the Global Coalition has to take another sober look at its Daesh policies. Its military victories may turn pyrrhic if Daesh ultimately wins after the campaign is over.
A frightening event in U.S.-Russia relations unfolded in February near Deir al-Zour in eastern Syria, as both sides battled the remnants of the Islamic State. In violation of a 2015 deconfliction agreement that divided the area into zones of Russian and U.S. military control, around 500 pro-Syrian fighters – most of whom spoke Russian, but whose citizenship remains unverified – crossed the Euphrates River to the U.S. side from the Russian-controlled zone, like reported by warontherocks.com.
On Feb. 7 these fighters used Russian tanks, artillery, and mortars to attack a U.S.-supported Kurdish opposition outpost located next to a Conoco natural gas plant. Local U.S. forces first fired back at the attackers using anti-tank missiles and machine guns, and then called in massive air strikes as the fighters continued their attack. The resulting four-hour battle killed 200 to 300 of the attacking forces, according to documents released by the Pentagon. The casualties included a large number of fighters from the Wagner mercenary group of Russian and pro-Russian veterans who had earlier fought on Moscow’s side in eastern Ukraine. (No U.S. or Kurdish casualties were reported.)
In other words, at a time of high geopolitical tension, the military forces of one nuclear superpower directly engaged hundreds of heavily armed and hostile citizens of another nuclear superpower, who may or may not have been acting at the behest of that superpower.
Russia’s actions in the wake of this event have been perplexing. The United States used the special deconfliction phone line for Syria with its Russian counterparts “before, during, and after the strike,” according to the Pentagon, presumably making Moscow aware that an American strike was likely. “We were assured by the Russians that there were no Russians involved,” the Pentagon noted. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testified that “the Russian high command in Syria assured us it was not their people.” But the Russian foreign ministry later admitted that five Russian citizens were killed, and still later said that while “Russian service members” did not participate, several dozen Russian (and pro-Russian Ukrainian) citizens were wounded and flown back to Russia for treatment. However, nearly all experts agree that Russia is understating these figures: Unofficial estimates by Russian doctors and family members indicate that at least 80 Russians died, with some reports claiming an even higher toll.
Why did Moscow initially deny any Russians’ involvement, and then downplay the casualty numbers? And why didn’t the Russian Defense Ministry stop the attackers from crossing into the American zone, or warn them about the likelihood of a U.S. counterstrike? Western media have offered two contending explanations: that Wagner acted without the Kremlin’s authorization, or that this was a Kremlin-approved attack that sought to test Washington while maintaining plausible deniability. But neither explanation fully answers all of the puzzles raised by the publicly available evidence, even though both help us understand more generally the opaque relationship between the Russian state and these forces. A different, or perhaps additional, rationale takes into account the ruthless infighting between Russian security forces that goes on regularly, while Russian President Vladimir Putin looks the other way. Russian Defense Ministry motives in Deir al-Zour may actually have centered on domestic politics inside Russia — and been directed against Putin ally and Wagner backer Yevgeny Prigozhin.
The ambiguity of the relationship between Wagner and the Kremlin made U.S. crisis decision-making much more difficult and dangerous — and the situation could well repeat itself. Putin is increasingly turning to Wagner (and other groups like it) in his efforts to expand Moscow’s global reach. Wagner forces, which were used to support pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, are now believed to be operating under contract to Omar al-Bashir’s government in Sudan. A different Russian private military firm, the RSB group, has claimed to be operating in Libya on behalf of Russian ally Khalifa Haftar, a regional warlord who has often acted outside the command of the U.N.-recognized Libyan government. Thus, some version of the Deir al-Zour events could soon crop up elsewhere, as U.S. and Russian interests around the world remain at odds and the two countries continue to use military means to pursue those interests. Understanding Russia’s relationship with militias like Wagner offers insight not just into the Syrian conflict, but also into other fragile security situations where Russia’s involvement is ambiguous, as well as into the political tensions inside Russia’s national security bureaucracy.
Out of Control
A predecessor group to Wagner called the Slavonic Corps first went into Syria in 2013, primarily to guard energy facilities and free up Syrian forces for fighting. That time around, two commanders were arrested and imprisoned in Russia as illegal mercenaries when they returned home, although the rest of the Slavonic Corps personnel were not prosecuted. In 2016, Wagner, using many of the same fighters as Slavonic Corps, is believed to have given crucial assistance to Syria in recapturing Palmyra from the Islamic State. The Russian online investigative newspaper fontanka.ru provided photographic evidence that Wagner commanders received state medals for their work and had even been welcomed personally at the Kremlin by Putin.
While a March investigative report by the German newspaper Der Spiegel had previously cast doubt on the exact chain of events in Deir al-Zour in February, experts in both the United States and Europe now consider a May New York Times report, based on newly released Pentagon documents and interviews, to be the definitive open-source version of the story. This allows Russian military decisions to be analyzed with a higher degree of confidence, and to give each of the contending explanations their due.
The first explanation, suggested by Neil Hauer in Foreign Affairs, is that the Wagner group acted without Moscow’s knowledge or approval. This explanation is also preferred by the Kremlin. Scholars like Deborah Avant who study private military companies term this a “principal/agent problem:” The interests of the principal contracting state may not align with those of the agents it hires to do military tasks, and states cannot sufficiently monitor what agents actually do on the ground.
The Wagner group certainly has distinct interests in Syria, since its service contracts there are ultimately paid by the Syrian state, not Russia, through a complex financial chain. Wagner is believed to be funded by Prigozhin, a prominent Russian military contractor and close Putin ally. Prigozhin is under U.S. sanctions and was recently indicted by the U.S. Attorney General for funding the Internet Research Agency, the St. Petersburg firm responsible for social media interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He owns another opaque St. Petersburg firm called Evro Polis. In late 2016, Evro Polis (with Kremlin approval) reached a memorandum of understanding with the Syrian energy ministry, giving the firm a 25 percent share of oil and gas produced over the next five years in any Syrian fields, processing plants, and infrastructure that the firm helps to “liberate,” protect, and develop. The final contract was signed in January with the support of the Russian Ministry of Energy. Notably, Deir al-Zour is known as Syria’s oil capital. (Prigozhin also has an interest in Sudan’s gold deposits, suggesting that natural resources contracts may play a role in Wagner’s actions elsewhere, too.)
Perhaps, then, Prigozhin and his Wagner colleagues got greedy, trying to seize the area without adequate planning or Russian defense ministry knowledge and support. But leaked U.S. intelligence documents throw this explanation into doubt because they indicate that Prigozhin kept in close contact with Kremlin officials immediately before and after the attack. In late January, Prigozhin even told Syrian authorities that he had permission from an unnamed Russian minister to make a “fast and strong” move that would be a “good surprise” for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in the date range where the attack occurred. Furthermore, the Pentagon watched Wagner on the ground for a week before the attack, as the group entered the American zone of control and moved toward the Conoco site. As noted earlier, the United States communicated with the Russian command in Syria throughout. Especially since Wagner trains next door to the Russian Military Intelligence (GRU) 10th brigade in Krasnodar, it stretches credulity to imagine that Russian military intelligence was not also watching the group, and did not suspect either the Wagner group’s involvement or its target.
Perhaps instead Moscow knew full well what was happening, and intentionally used the Wagner group to test Washington’s willingness to defend its Kurdish allies and maintain a presence in Syria. This explanation has been advanced by the Wall Street Journal and the Institute for the Study of Warfare. Putin himself said publicly in 2012 that private military companies could be “an instrument for the realization of national interests without the direct participation of the government.” In this case, Putin may have thought Washington was so wary of deeper involvement in Syria that Russia could overrun U.S. allies and turn public opinion against the American effort, all while maintaining plausible deniability of the Kremlin’s involvement. This fits a standard claim about Putin: that he follows Vladimir Lenin’s maxim to test opponents with a bayonet, moving forward if he finds mush and stopping if he finds steel. Certainly, a similar logic explains why many state leaders cooperate with armed local power brokers, even when these warlords challenge their ultimate sovereignty. Such cooperation gives leaders plausible deniability for what are really state-approved actions, allowing them to avoid both condemnation and dangerous conflict escalation with other states.
This explanation implies, not implausibly, that Moscow did not care enough about the lives of the hundreds of loyal Russian veterans serving in the Wagner group to call them back when U.S. intentions became clear. Some claim that even the evacuation of the wounded was delayed, pointing to the fact that a different mercenary unit — not regular Russian forces — had to provide helicopters to remove casualties from the battlefield. Indeed, the Der Spiegel report hints that this is why Moscow was slow to acknowledge the number of casualties involved: It wished to avoid blame for providing inadequate resources to Prigozhin’s men while treating them as cannon fodder.
The Russian Defense Ministry’s lack of concern about those fighting for Wagner suggests another possibility that has not yet been raised publicly. Perhaps the uniformed Russian military leadership, or some segment of its command, chose not to stop the Wagner group even knowing full well that superior U.S. forces would fight fire with fire. The Defense Ministry may resent Prigozhin’s independence – military forces everywhere have tensions with those not under their command who take actions in their area of operations. High-ranking Russian officers may especially resent Wagner’s special oil and gas contract with the Syrian government.
Indeed, the Russian investigative journalist who has studied Wagner most closely, Denis Korotkov, said in an interview in August 2017 that Russian Defense Ministry financial support for Wagner had “suddenly dried up” earlier that year, as weapons deliveries disappeared and the wages of Wagner personnel plummeted. Something appears to have changed after Palmyra in how the Russian armed forces viewed Wagner’s usefulness.
The Russian state has refused repeated proposals by deputies of the state legislature, the Duma, to legalize the status of private military companies like Wagner, suggesting the Kremlin has mixed feelings at best about these groups’ actions. The military press in Russia has aired many debates about private military companies, too, reinforcing the sense of uncertainty about how the state views them. (Given state control over the media, the opinions expressed in these pieces are probably proxies for some form of bureaucratic infighting.) One of the most interesting sources for this debate has been the weekly newspaper Military-Industrial Courier. Some commentators, like retired General Staff officer Konstantin Sivkov, have seen the private companies as a key component of counter-insurgency warfare — including for the carrying out of “dirty deeds” abroad where the government doesn’t want to reveal its hand — and have urged Russia to legalize them and catch up with the rest of the world. But others have been virulently opposed. Tatiana Gracheva, a General Staff Academy instructor, worries that such groups would compete against the armed forces to hire the best people, and might even launch violence at home to topple the government, under contract to foreign agents.
Prigozhin himself is a civilian with no military background, imprisoned for nine years as a young man for organized crime activities. While any attempt to understand how Russian officers think must remain speculative, the generals might believe that using a convicted criminal to commercialize foreign defense actions distorts Russian national security interests, in a region where they have risked much on behalf of the state. Or, given that concerns about military corruption remain high in Russia, perhaps the generals just wanted a bigger cut of Prigozhin’s oil deal for themselves. For any of these reasons, they might have intentionally failed to share information from the U.S. deconfliction line with the Wagner group in order to send Prigozhin and his forces a message.
There is no publicly available evidence that Russian generals thought or acted this way. But brutal infighting would help explain the extraordinary callousness of Russian military officers to the fate of a large group of Russian veterans — even if the Russian state was simultaneously trying to advance against U.S. interests using plausible deniability. As analysts Brian Taylor and Mark Galeotti have noted, Putin’s Russia has been riven with conflicts between competing informal network groups close to the Kremlin, including many conflicts within the siloviki, the various state ministries responsible for providing security. Putin is believed to use these rivalries (ranging from competition over overlapping responsibilities to fighting over illegal kickbacks and smuggling) to his own benefit, since it keeps the force-wielding agencies of Russia from uniting against him.
Putin is approaching his last constitutionally mandated term as president, and may increasingly be seen as a lame duck. As scholar Henry Hale notes, signs of leadership weakness in patronage-based political systems like Russia’s often lead clients to start searching for new patrons, which can create social instability. If a core group of military commanders resents Prigozhin, maybe it is they who are using their bayonets — under the direction of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu— not to test Washington, but instead to test a competing circle of other leading figures around Putin.
We may never have enough evidence to solve definitively the puzzles of Russian behavior at Deir al-Zour. But an understanding of Russian politics and security affairs allows us to better interpret the evidence we do have. Since Moscow’s employment of groups like Wagner appears to be a growing trend, U.S. and allied forces should consider the possibility that in various locations around the world, they might end up inadvertently, and dangerously, ensnared in Russia’s internal power struggles.
“We support the BDS movement.”
Those were the words of Ismail Haniyeh, a former Hamas prime minister and the head of its Politburo. And they revealed that Hamas considers BDS to be a component of its strategy for destroying Israel.
Even as Hamas continues the violence against Israel, it has gone on cheering BDS, like reported by frontpagemag.com.
In a statement last month, Hamas welcomed BDS support for its cause even as it vowed victory. Last year, it tweeted, “We salute and support the influential BDS Movement.”
Hamas officials have praised BDS as a means of destroying Israel and urged greater BDS coordination against Israel. But Hamas support for BDS is a lot more than just words. And the support isn’t one-sided.
The US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), the umbrella group for BDS in this country, whose work guides Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), has been funneling money to the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) which operates in the terrorist occupied territories of Israel. BNC includes an umbrella group which numbers Hamas, the PFLP and Islamic Jihad, among other terrorist groups, as its members.
The recent expose of these intimate links between terror groups and the BDS movement in a Tablet report by Armin Rosen and Liel Leibovitz demolished the myth that BDS is a non-violent movement or that it seeks a peaceful solution. Rather than a non-violent alternative to terrorism, BDS is an ally of Islamic terrorist groups and seeks to supplement their violence with economic and cultural pressure.
BDS is not an alternative to terrorism. It’s another political arm of the terrorists.
Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy, Gilad Erdan, has now made “The Hate Net” map public. The Hate Net map charts the connections between BDS organizations and terrorist groups.
“Here are the 42 leaders of the BDS network,” Minister Erdan said, at his presentation at the Global Coalition 4 Israel Forum (GC4I), as he explored how the connections to the Palestinian BDS National Committee create a direct link between domestic BDS groups and Islamic terrorist groups.
Hate Net maps how BDS groups in the United States and Europe intersect with designated terrorist groups using political organizations in the terrorist occupied territories as their interface. These organizations, like the Palestinian BDS National Committee, Addameer or al-Haq, launder BDS support while plugging into local terrorist organizations such as Hamas or the PFLP. The PFLP’s Dawson Field hijackings of multiple airplanes in order to seize Jewish hostages was Al Qaeda’s inspiration for 9/11.
Minister Erdan pointed out that al-Haq boss Shawan Jabarin had served over a decade in prison for his role in the PFLP. Jabarin’s dual role with the PFLP terrorist organization, al-Haq and Human Rights Watch had already demonstrated the intersection between activist groups and terrorist organizations.
The Israeli High Court had noted at the time that “Some of his time is spent in conducting a human rights organization, and some as an operative in an organization which has no qualms regarding murder and attempted murder, which have no relation whatsoever to rights. Quite the opposite, they reject the most basic right of all, without which there are no other rights, that is, the right to life.”
In 2016, Rep. Hank Johnson, who would slur Jews as “termites”, BDS backer Rep. Mark Pocan, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Rep. Dan Kildee and Rep. Matt Cartwright had met with Jabarin on a trip funded by MIFTAH, an anti-Israel BDS group, which is in turn funded by the UN, that glorifies anti-Semitic terrorism and has accused Jews of using blood to make matzas. MIFTAH’s chairman sat on the board of the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture which is mostly funded by George Soros.
Some of the 8 terrorist occupied territories area organizations listed in the Hate Net, BNC (Palestinian BDS National Committee), PACBI (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel), Al-Haq, Addameer, DCI-P (Defense for Children International – Palestine), BADIL, PCHR (Palestinian Center for Human Rights) and Al-Mezan are accused of serving as links between BDS and terror groups.
As NGO Monitor’s past report had noted, Addameer was an official PFLP affiliate and key figures in the organization were PFLP members, including a board member who was a nephew of PFLP terror boss George Habash. DCI-P’s board members have documented PFLP ties and PCHR’s founder had served time in prison for his PFLP role. These groups connect to familiar anti-Israel groups here like Code Pink.
DCI-P’s terror ties didn’t stop Rep. Betty McCollum from thanking it for its role in her anti-Israel bill.
Hate Net’s 9 US BDS groups, 18 European BDS groups, and various other regional anti-Israel groups are effectively part of a network that includes the PFLP the PLO and Hamas. This network allegedly shares propaganda, funding and political goals.
As Minister Erdan noted, “Under the guise of ‘civil activities’, a coordinated and financed network of organizations is led from Ramallah and Gaza, a quarter of which have links to terrorist organizations, including Hamas and the Popular Front.”
The US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR) sponsors the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) in the terrorist occupied territories. Donations by Americans to the BNC, which when drilled down to its constituent elements includes Hamas and other terror groups, use USCPR’s tax-exempt status.
How can there be tax-exempt donations going to an organization whose constituent elements include terror groups? While Obama’s people abused the IRS to target pro-Israel groups, and media outlets from the New York Times to the JTA, and anti-Israel groups such as T’ruah and If Not Now, have urged financially targeting pro-Israel charities, this extremely disturbing arrangement was allowed to remain intact.
Meanwhile Students for Justice in Palestine, the campus hate group notorious for its harassment of Jewish students and for anti-Israel events funded by student fees, credits the support of USCPR in its BDS handbook. And SJP members have been notorious for their support of the PFLP. At Temple University, SJP celebrated PFLP terror boss George Habash. Columbia’s SJP tweeted PFLP propaganda. SJP Vassar concluded its withdrawal of anti-Semitic material with a Habash quote.
USCPR’s own constituent elements include American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) whose origins lie in the Palestine Committee that was set up by the Muslim Brotherhood to support Hamas. At least one AMP board member has spent time in prison for his work on behalf of Hamas. AMP’s National Campus Coordinator, Taher Herzallah had praised Hamas violence against Israel on social media.
Minister Erdan had noted that, “The relationship between terrorist organizations and the BDS movement has never been closer, ideologically or operationally.”
BDS is a crucial part of that operational relationship.
The Hamas shift to using fake civilian protests as human shields for its attacks on Israeli soldiers and farmers is clearly meant to aid its BDS allies. Rather than abandoning violence, the Islamic terror group is finding new ways to combine terrorism with civilian protests in a way that meets both its military objectives and the political objectives of the BDS movement.
Meanwhile campus BDS propaganda is being shaped by groups interlinked with the PFLP and Hamas. And the leading BDS group in America is helping raise money that trickles into a terror-linked network. The notoriously vague demands of the BDS movement are purposely so because spelling them out would mean echoing the rhetoric of their allied terror groups in calling for a genocide against the Jews.
Hate Net’s map of the BDS movement’s ties to terrorism shows the multidirectional operational relationship between bombings and BDS. This relationship is not merely supportive. The Hate Net spectrum shares a common cause. And that cause is the destruction of Israel.
Hamas and the PFLP support BDS. And BDS supports the PFLP and Hamas.
BDS is not just a point of view. It’s not non-violent. Like the Nazi boycott of Jewish stores, it’s another tactic in a violent anti-Semitic campaign by Islamic supremacists to exterminate the Jewish people.
Terrorist attacks in Mali, including a brazen assault on the headquarters of the fledgling Sahel counterterrorism force, cast a spotlight on the Islamist extremists roaming Africa, like reported by dw.com
Mali has experienced a number of deadly extremist attacks in recent days. Three people were killed in a car bomb attack on the G5 Sahel force command post in the town of Sevare on Friday. The al-Qaida-linked Support Group for Islam and Muslims claimed responsibility for the attack.
Four Malian soldiers were killed on Saturday when their vehicle hit a land mine. An attack in northern Mali targeting French forces killed four civilians on Sunday and wounded more than 20 people, including French soldiers.
The latest wave of extremism coincided with a summit of the African Union (AU) in Nouakchott, the capital of neighboring Mauritania, which focused on ways to tackle corruption and extremism.
Macron in Nouakchott for talks
The leaders of the G5 Sahel states — Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad — held talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Nouakchott on the final day of the AU summit.
The G5 Sahel force was set up with the help of the French last year to crush jihadist insurgents and criminal groups in the vast and unstable region. It aims to deploy 5,000 troops. It will operate alongside France’s 4,000 troops in the troubled border area between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso and the 12,000 UN peacekeepers in Mali.
Macron also met with the AU Peace and Security Council to discuss the fight against Islamist extremism in Africa, as well as ways to better finance peacekeeping and counterterrorism operations.
“Our thoughts are with our Malian friends after tragic and cowardly attacks,” Macron said. “Several French soldiers were injured and are being evacuated. The first victims are Malian civilians.”
Limping into action
Several years after the G5 Sahel force was conceived by African countries, the French leader set the ball rolling on international donor pledges in mid-2017. It is some time since the UN warned the force was behind on its mandate.
The Sahel is experiencing a rising tide of Islamist extremism as the force limps into action. The developments in countries such as Mali are closely watched in other regions of the continent facing a similar pattern.
Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, in an interview with DW, said Monday that Maghreb states are willing to work with the G5 Sahel group.
In the Niger River valley, in particular, jihadist and inter-communal conflicts are contributing to the overall insecurity in the West African nation preparing for elections on July 29. Attacks where jihadists target French troops in Mali are frequent.
“The big strategic question is: Can France help the countries of the G5 Sahel accelerate and strengthen deployment of their new military force? The big challenge at the moment is to strengthen the G5 joint force to help reinforce security,” Paul Melly, an Africa analyst with Chatham House in London, told DW.
Africa’ jihadists intertwined
Across Africa, Islamist extremism is intertwined and seen to be emerging as far afield as Mozambique to the south. Some of the larger outlawed groups include Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Shabab in Kenya.
Foreign Minister Bourita put the number of Islamist fighters at 10,000 Africa-wide.
“It is clear that al-Qaeda, with more than 6,000 fighters, is active throughout Africa today, I would also say that IS [so-called Islamic State]) has more than 3,000 fighters within its ranks in Africa,” he told DW.
In many instances they were former IS fighters returning from Syria or Iraq. “And that does not include those who have joined al-Shabab or Boko Haram.”
A homegrown problem
Experts increasingly view terrorism in Africa as homegrown and not necessarily driven by an Islamist ideology alone. Mali has seen what one expert describes as an Islamization of criminal structures. The groups are entrenched, and military solutions alone are often seen to be ineffective.
“When on looks at terrorist groups that are active in Africa, they didn’t fall from the sky and were not transplanted from elsewhere. These are groups that are rooted in their respective areas,” said Mark Engelhardt, an author and expert on terrorism in Africa.
“In the Sahel there is this new group, the one that claimed responsibility for the G5 Sahel attack, that is a coalition of well-known personalities. There is Mr Marlboro – known also as Mokhtar Belmokhtar – who started out smuggling cigarettes, and since then, people and weapons or anything of value,” said Engelhardt.
“Or, Iyad Ag Ghaly, who is reputed for switching alliances. Why? because it’s all about money.” The fanatical preachers and their followers in these parts are being welcomed with open arms as “fighters for free, or at least little.”
Jihadists drawn in neglected regions
The reasons terrorism is taking hold in Africa are manifold, according to Morocco’s foreign minister. He listed economic underdevelopment, population grown, a rise in separatist and other resistance movements, as well as criminal activity.
“The jihadists naturally profit from the chaos in Libya. They also profit from the chaos in the Sahel region, where many different terrorists ply their business. The same goes for Somalia and also West Africa, with Boko Haram,” Bourita said.
“Morocco and various neighbors in Africa jointly developed a strategy against terrorism. There are several solutions to the problem of IS: military solutions, also propagandist solutions and we are seeking to rebuild the areas that were destroyed by IS. These initiatives should be extended to other African states,” Bourita said.
“Cooperation with the G5 Sahel group should be expanded,” he added.
Experts have long warned that areas that are unregulated or neglected by African governments are especially prone to jihadist influence.
“One example is the story of Boko Haram or that of al-Shabab in Somalia. It is an entirely similar story, each of course specific to that country. But the point is that these groups are rooted in what is wrong with these countries,” said Engelhardt.
“People don’t want war or gruesome terror, but they are fighting for their existence and at the moment they only have these terrorists on their side.”
Parallels are being drawn between the instability in northern Mozambique, where jihadist militants have gone on the rampage in recent months, and Nigeria’s experience with Boko Haram. Kenya’s north-east coast — home to a marginalized Somali minority — is also seen as vulnerable to the influence of al-Shabab.
“What happens is the same dynamic we are seeing in Mali,” said Engelhardt.
The European Union lost €180 billion (USD $210 billion) in GDP due to terrorism between 2004 and 2016, like reported by zerohedge.com. The United Kingdom (€43.7 billion) and France (€43 billion) suffered the highest losses, followed by Spain (€40.8 billion) and Germany (€19.2 billion), according to a Rand Corporation study.
“Beyond those who have been directly physically affected by terrorist attacks, the extensive coverage of terrorist attacks through multiple media and social media channels has substantially increased the amount of people and companies that could be psychologically affected. This subsequently affects their economic behaviour”.
New statistics have also come from the Britain’s anti-terrorism office. 441 peoplehave been arrested in the UK for terrorism in the last year alone, and 4,182 since the attacks of September 11, 2001. The threat of terrorism is exhausting Europe.
According to the Spanish “black book” of terrorism, 658 Europeans have been murdered in terror attacks on European soil, while 1,029 Europeans have been killed by them abroad. Half of the French army has been deployed within the French Republic to protect the civilian targets, such as schools, monuments, and religious sites.
Europe’s armies are exhausted from patrolling the streets, to the point that NATO planners now fear that, over time, European armies “may get better at guarding railway stations and airports than fighting wars”. An officer who recently returned from Afghanistan for guard duty in Belgium said: “We are standing around like flowers pots, just waiting to be smashed”. Germany also sent troops into the streets for the first time since the Second World War.
One has to ask: Is Europe really serious about its war on terror? The French magazine Causeur just called it “the Batman Syndrome“:
“How can we respect a society that is too cowardly to fight those who threaten its citizens, and that demonstrates its weakness by systematically seeking appeasement at the price of the most unreasonable accommodations? It is the ‘Batman syndrome’: the hero refuses to kill, he systematically saves his enemy who escapes and kills new victims until the hero catches up with him, and so on.“
France is now close to freeing at least 50 terrorists from prison. The UK is also due to free 80 Islamic fundamentalists from prison. According to a new French report, nearly 10% of the 512 prisoners incarcerated for terrorism are likely to be released by the end of 2018. Their release may well pose a major threat. Khamzat Azimov, a terrorist who stabbed a man to death and injured four other people with a knife in central Paris, was known to counter-terrorism forces. Belgium released from prison a terrorist who had gone on a “bloody rampage” in the city of Liege two days before he killed two policewomen and a passerby.
Unless it gets serious about arresting not only the terrorists but also their deadly ideology, Europe will not see the end of the jihadist siege. A few days after the attacks in Liege, France thwarted another jihadist plot “with either explosives or ricin, this very powerful poison”. After that, there was another terror attempt to strike the French gay community.
“France is the priority target of the terrorism unleashed in Europe by conquering Islam” wrote Ivan Rioufol in Le Figaro.
“Since 2015, 247 people have been killed in France in attacks by Islamists. The ‘knife intifada’ is no longer reserved just for Israel. In Magnanville, a couple of policemen, Jean-Baptiste Salvaing and Jessica Schneider, were stabbed in front of their three-year-old child. Father Jacques Hamel was slaughtered in his church. In Marseille, Laura and Maurane had their throats slashed. These crimes will continue so long as the Republic leaves the enemy in peace”.
The level of threat in France remains alarmingly high. “9,157 people were subjected to at least one surveillance measure by the intelligence services in 2017 in the name of the prevention of terrorism”, an official French report recently revealed. In 2017, 20 major terror attacks in France were foiled.
Regarding the West’s current “war on terror,” American historian Victor Davis Hanson wrote:
“The result is the present age of serial Punic conflict, perhaps intolerable to the psyche, but in amoral terms tolerable as long as casualties are kept to a minimum and defeat is redefined as acceptable strategic wisdom. In the past, such periods of enervating war have gone on for a century and more. Ultimately, they too end — and with consequences.”
In the end, there might be still a region called “Europe”, but it may no longer enfold European culture.
A new era has begun in Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has cemented his power for the next five years, at least. The new system allows the president to appoint cabinet ministers directly, gives him the power to issue decrees and appoint members of the judiciary, like reported by dw.com.
Erdogan was able to get an outright majority to win the presidency even though votes for his Justice and Development Party (AKP) dropped to 42.5 percent from 49.5 percent in the previous parliamentary election in 2015.
Big win for Erdogan
Yes, this is a big win for Erdogan. But it is a big win in a very polarized country. AKP voters are celebrating while the other half of the nation is deeply disappointed because they are aware that this is the end of democracy as they know it.
The opposition made a strong comeback, but it wasn’t enough. Despite the complaints about vote manipulation, the AKP was quick to declare victory and will stick to it at all costs. It’s a moment of deja-vu that reminds us of the 2017 referendum, in which the “yes” vote won by a slight majority, paving the way to constitutional change. The June 24 election was the last chance to reverse that decision. This was Turkey’s last shot at democracy. Those citizens who voted for the opposition parties and what it stands for will have to find a way to adjust to the new system.
The world is watching
The world has been watching for a long time now. And it will continue to do so, since Turkey isn’t an ally that could easily be abandoned. In the meantime Turkey’s relations with the West, mainly with Europe, will be more challenging than before, probably more so for Erdogan’s European counterparts than for the president himself since he now has the justification he needed to legally exercise his expanded power. He has been practicing during the state-of-emergency that has been ongoing since the failed 2016 coup.
If the European Union decided to formally suspend the accession process with Turkey, this means it will be ignoring the other half of the country that is striving for democracy. If they don’t suspend it, then the bloc will have to find a way to deal with a country that is constantly violating the values that the EU is built on. The silence from world leaders following the preliminary election results suggest that caution will be practiced while dealing with Turkey.
Following the opposition’s defeat, voters are frustrated that it has been so quiet. Erdogan’s main rival, Muharrem Ince of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), is due to make an official statement on Monday. Considering the news coming out about manipulation of votes both during and before the election, the voter frustration is understandable.
While the opposition worries about what to say to the public on June 25, Erdogan must roll up his sleeves and dive into improving the economy. Winning an election is one thing, but ending Turkey’s economic woes will require more effort and is a big challenge, despite all the powers the new president has.
Late last week a US drone killed Maulana Fazlullah, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban—known as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)—in Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar province. This is a serious body blow to the TTP, which had already been significantly weakened by several counter-insurgency and counterterrorism operations in recent years, like reported by aspistrategist.org.au.
Fazlullah, who was 44 years old, was a particularly nasty individual. He took over as the TPP’s leader after another US drone strike killed his predecessor, Hakimullah Mehsud, in November 2013. Fazlullah sought the imposition of Sharia law throughout Pakistan. He led the insurgency in the Swat valley in 2007–2009 during which music and barber shops were banned and girls were discouraged from going to school. It took some 35,000 troops to dislodge him and his fighters from that area.
But Fazlullah will be especially remembered for two notoriously vicious terrorist acts. First he ordered the assassination in 2012 of 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai because of her advocacy of education for girls. She was badly injured in the terrorist attack but recovered, and was eventually awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.
Second, Fazlullah ordered what was undoubtedly one of the most brutal terrorist attacks in the history of Pakistan: the slaughter of over 130 children at a school in Peshawar. That assault on the school where many military officers send their children marked a decisive turning point in Pakistan’s fight against the Taliban and its supporters.
Following the school massacre, then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif abandoned all attempts to negotiate with the TTP. The government implemented its counterterrorism National Action Plan, reimposed the death penalty and launched Operation Sword of the Prophet in North Waziristan in 2015.
Importantly, the military made clear that it would no longer differentiate between a ‘good’ Taliban (one that only killed Western forces in Afghanistan, but not Pakistani forces) and a ‘bad’ Taliban (one that killed Westerners and Pakistanis alike). The new approach seems to have paid off. The number of terrorist incidents in Pakistan has significantly declined in the last two years.
Needless to say, few people, if any, will miss Fazlullah. Among Taliban leaders and fighters, Fazlullah enjoyed little respect largely because he wasn’t a Mehsud, one of the dominant tribes in Waziristan. Following the death of Hakimullah Mehsud, there were many anti-American demonstrations condemning his assassination. I suspect the same won’t happen this time. On the contrary, his elimination will be welcomed by many. Chief among them will be the military, which stated that Fazlullah’s death ‘gives relief to scores of Pakistani families who fell victims [sic] to TTP terror’.
But most importantly, Fazlullah’s departure provides a major opportunity to improve relations between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US. Pakistan has complained for several years that Afghanistan didn’t do enough to hunt down Fazlullah and others hiding in the eastern part of the country.
Military operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas had reduced the Taliban’s safe operational space and had forced Fazlullah to flee across the border. From there, however, he continued to launch attacks into Pakistan. With his removal, cross-border operations will probably diminish, eliminating a major obstacle in bilateral relations.
We can also expect relations between Pakistan and the US to improve—albeit from a very low point. America’s removal of Pakistan’s most wanted terrorist will go some way towards rebuilding US–Pakistan bilateral relations that have been particularly poor since President Donald Trump announced his South Asia policy last August and accused Islamabad of harbouring terrorists. It’s unlikely that the Trump administration will reverse its decision to suspend $2 billion in military aid to Pakistan. Even so, a sense that Washington and Islamabad are pulling in the same direction could begin to build much-needed trust between the two capitals.
As for Fazlullah’s replacement, it’s difficult to see how a leader will take control either quickly or smoothly. The TTP is highly factionalised, divided along tribal and operational lines and with conflicting economic interests. Its weakened state, as well as the uncertainty about its future direction, may prompt fighters to defect to the Islamic State affiliate in Khorasan province. That wouldn’t be good news for the long-term stability of Pakistan.
In the meantime, the country will hold federal and provincial elections late next month. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which governed until recently handing over to a caretaker administration until the election, will want to take credit for Fazlullah’s elimination. Former Prime Minister Sharif can legitimately claim responsibility for the significant decrease in terrorist attacks under his watch, albeit with a lot of support from the military.
Sharif’s achievement should help his party return to power, most likely with a reduced majority. Such an outcome would be a positive development for Pakistan. An electoral victory for former test cricketer, Imran Khan, who’s highly critical of US policy in the region, would be bad for US–Pakistan relations and would almost certainly set back any prospect for peace in Afghanistan.
Muqtada al-Sadr’s nationalist agenda undermines Iran’s unchallenged influence in Iraq. To create strategic spheres of influence across the Middle East, Iran has supported a militarized form of sectarian nationalism, like reported by carnegie-mec.org. Such nationalism is part of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s vision of “exporting the revolution.” Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Yemen’s Houthi militias, and the Syrian regime are all part of this anti-Western, anti-Israeli “axis of resistance,” and even if Sunni groups such as Hamas are also a part of it, they are an exception to the rule that confirms the sectarianism underlying Iran’s regional alliances.
In contrast, Sadr has adopted a nationalist approach focused on strengthening Iraq’s independence and sovereignty. That means that Iran’s model of sectarian nationalism will be challenged by Sadr’s Iraqi nationalism. Sadr is working on ending Iranian and U.S. influence in Iraq. His nationalistic project is not likely to be accepted by Iran. To maintain its influence in Iraq for at least the next four years, Tehran will respond with threats. Currently, Iran’s influence is secured through its strong ties with local militias trained and funded by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, such as the Hezbollah Movement in Iraq and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, as well as through the Fatah Alliance and the State of Law Coalition, which together won over 70 seats in Iraq’s May elections.
Muqtada al-Sadr is not anti-Iranian, he is better described as an Iraqi nationalist. Therefore, measuring the impact of his politics on Iran’s influence depends on how the Iranians perceive Iraqi nationalism and whether they are willing to tolerate a more independent, Iraq-centric approach by Shi‘a actors.
There are two main dynamics that shaped Sadr’s attitude toward Iranian influence in the last few years. First, Iran’s support for groups that dissented from his movement, such as ‘Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba. Recently, some of these groups have grown militarily, financially, and politically, sometime posing a threat to Sadr’s influence in his strongholds.
Second, given his support base, mostly formed of underprivileged Shi‘a of southern origin, Sadr embraced an anti-establishment discourse that appealed to his base. He adopted an active oppositional role and a reformist agenda that targeted some of the Shi‘a Islamist parties and figures close to the Iranians, especially former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. Sadr’s current alliance with the leftist and liberal groups that prioritized an Iraq-centric agenda and demanded major reforms is a continuation of this path.
While Iran may not be interested in actively opposing Sadr’s internal agenda, it will continue watching his political choices to see whether these could significantly reduce the influence of its allies and serve the interests of rivals such as the United States and Saudi Arabia. It may prefer to contain Sadr within an arrangement that neither excludes him nor gives him a controlling role. Interestingly, this is an objective shared with the U.S. As for Sadr, he was careful to clarify that his objective is not to confront Iran but to assert Iraq’s independence. It is not going to be a zero-sum-game. There is room to accommodate the interests of both sides.
However much Muqtada al-Sadr might like to, the answer is no. Apart from the fact that he is not targeting Iran in particular, but has any type of external interference in Iraqi affairs in his sights, Sadr lacks the political strength, for now, to counter Iran’s infiltration of Iraq’s security institutions. Whatever governing coalition emerges following recent elections, and assuming Sadr’s bloc will be part of it, Sadr’s power will be diluted by his governing partners.
While there is a broader desire among Iraq’s ruling elites to curb Iranian influence, the state remains weak and therefore vulnerable to penetration. The response to external interference is not to fight it, but to rebuild Iraqi governing institutions. Nor does Iran feel threatened by Sadr, or by an Iraqi government in which he plays a role. Tehran knows it can use its local allies to keep him leashed. Iran’s greatest enemy in Iraq is its own overconfidence.
There is no doubt that Muqtada al-Sadr’s narrow victory in Iraq’s May 12 legislative elections poses a serious challenge to Iranian influence in the country, but also one that remains manageable for Tehran. Building on his immense personal popularity and his credentials as heir to a prestigious Arab nationalist and Iraqi nationalist clerical dynasty, Sadr has increasingly upped his populist rhetoric against Iran. His followers immediately celebrated their victory by chanting, “Iran out, out! Baghdad remains free.” Since then his aides have echoed the widespread resentment against Iranian interference, stressing the unchecked flow of Iranian imports, to the detriment of whatever is left of local Iraqi production. They have also accused Iran of a Machiavellian plan to destroy Iraq’s youth by inundating the neighboring southern governorates with drugs. Add to these accusations the still unresolved issues of water, oilfields, and border settlements between Iraq and Iran and the balance of Iraqi politics could possibly tilt in favor of Tehran’s enemies, including the United States and its Gulf allies.
However, Iran also knows the Sadrist movement intimately, having militarily and ideologically trained most of its commanders since 2003. The Iranians have in the past kept the movement under control through a ruthless policy of divide and rule, with some of the most prominent Sadrists defecting to become the new leaders of the pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Forces. The lack of discipline within the Sadrist movement, in particular the absence of credible middle-ranking cadres, and the poor performance of its parliamentary bloc in the past only make Iran’s task of containing the Sadrists easier. And if Muqtada al-Sadr resorts to his favored tactic, namely street politics and militia threats, Iran could unleash its own proxies against him. After all, they are organic heirs, albeit illegitimate ones, of Muqtada’s late father, Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, who was murdered by Saddam Hussein’s regime in 1999.