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Lebanon’s Hariri leaves Saudi Arabia for France

BEIRUT – Saad Hariri, who sparked a crisis by resigning as Lebanese prime minister on Nov. 4 during a visit to Saudi Arabia, is on his way to the airport, he said early on Saturday, before his flight from Riyadh to France.

Hariri’s abrupt resignation while he was in Saudi Arabia and his continued stay there caused fears over Lebanon’s stability. His visit to France with his family to meet President Emmanuel Macron is seen as part of a possible way out of the crisis.

“I am on the way to the airport,” he said in a Tweet.

However, Okab Saqr, a member of parliament for Hariri’s Future Movement, said that after Hariri’s visit to France, he would have “a small Arab tour” before traveling to Beirut.

Macron, speaking in Sweden, said Hariri “intends to return to his country in the coming days, weeks.”

Hezbollah says Saudi declares Lebanon war over Hariri detention (Reuters

The crisis has thrust Lebanon into the bitter rivalry pitting Saudi Arabia and its allies against a bloc led by Iran, which includes the heavily armed Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah group.

In Lebanon, Hariri has long been an ally of Riyadh. His coalition government, formed in a political deal last year to end years of paralysis, includes Hezbollah.

President Michel Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, has called Hariri a Saudi hostage and refused to accept his resignation unless he returns to Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia and Hariri say his movements are not restricted. On Wednesday, Macron invited Hariri to visit France along with his family, providing what French diplomats said might be a way to reduce tensions surrounding the crisis by demonstrating that Hariri could leave Saudi Arabia.

Lebanese politicians from across the political spectrum have called for Hariri to return to the country, saying it is necessary to resolve the crisis.

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who heads President Aoun’s political party, said on Thursday Beirut could escalate the crisis if Hariri did not return home.

“We have adopted self-restraint so far to arrive at this result so that we don’t head towards diplomatic escalation and the other measures available to us,” he said during a European tour aimed at building pressure for a solution to the crisis.

REGIONAL CRISIS

Saudi Arabia regards Hezbollah as a conduit for Iranian interference across the Middle East, particularly in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. It says it has no problem with Hezbollah remaining a purely political party, but has demanded it surrender its arms, which the group says are needed to defend Lebanon.

Although Riyadh has said it accepted Hariri’s decision to join a coalition with Hezbollah last year, after Hariri announced his resignation Saudi Arabia accused Lebanon of declaring war on it because of Hezbollah’s regional role.

Lebanon, where Sunni, Shi’ite, Christian and Druze groups fought a 1975-1990 civil war, maintains a governing system intended to balance sectarian groups. The prime minister is traditionally from the Sunni community, of which Hariri is the most influential leader.

On Friday, Hariri said in a tweet that his presence in Saudi Arabia was for “consultations on the future of the situation in Lebanon and its relations with the surrounding Arab region.”

His scheduled meeting with Macron in Paris on Saturday, and a lunch that his family will also attend, comes the day before Arab foreign ministers meet in Cairo to discuss Iran.

Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, says it appears Saudi Arabia hopes the ministers will adopt a “strongly worded statement” against Iran.

But she said not all the countries share Riyadh’s view that one way to confront Iran is to apply pressure on Lebanon.

“There is quite a widespread understanding that there is only so much Lebanon can do and it doesn’t serve anybody to turn Lebanon into your next arena for a fight between Iran and Saudi Arabia,” said.

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Lebanons-Hariri-leaves-Saudi-Arabia-for-France-514525

PM Hariri arrives in Paris as Saudi-Iranian tensions run high

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri arrived in Paris on Saturday with his wife and their children after departing from Saudi-Arabia.

AFP reported that the Hariris, without their children, were seen entering their Paris home.

Hariri is due to meet French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday as part of a French effort to ease the tensions in the region.
He did not speak to any of the reporters present at his Paris address when he entered it.

Hariri is is still technically the Prime Minister of Lebanon because Lebanese President Michel Aoun did not accept his resignation which was broadcast from Saudi-Arabia on November 4 when Hariri visited that country,

Hariri told Aoun in a phone call he would be in Lebanon on Wednesday for Independence Day celebrations, Aoun said on Twitter on Saturday.

Aoun also wrote that upon Hariri’s return “we will hear from him all the matters and concerns that need to be addressed.” 

The unexpected and unusual resignation caused many in Lebanon to worry that Saudi-Arabia is attempting to goad the people of Lebanon to act against Hezbollah and its’ patron state Iran. With some even suggesting the Saudis had, in effect, taken the prime minister hostage and don’t allow him to leave. Hariri used his Twitter account to dispel such notions. 

Hariri claimed during his broadcast that Iran and Hezbollah are interfering in the affairs of the mostly Sunni Arab states and that he doesn’t believe he is safe in Lebanon anymore.

His own father, Rafik Hariri, had been assassinated in 2005.

Lebanese politicians from across the political spectrum have called for Hariri to return to the country, saying it is necessary to resolve the crisis.

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who heads President Aoun’s political party, said last Thursday that Beirut could escalate the crisis if Hariri did not return home.

“We have adopted self-restraint so far to arrive at this result so that we don’t head towards diplomatic escalation and the other measures available to us,” he said during a European tour aimed at building pressure for a solution to the crisis

Okab Saqr, a member of parliament for Hariri’s Future Movement, said that after Hariri’s visit to France, he would have “a small Arab tour” before traveling to Beirut.

The crisis has thrust Lebanon into the bitter rivalry pitting Saudi Arabia and its allies against a bloc led by Iran, which includes the heavily armed Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah group.

In Lebanon, Hariri has long been an ally of Riyadh. His coalition government, formed in a political deal last year to end years of paralysis, includes Hezbollah.

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/PM-Hariri-arrives-to-Paris-as-Saudi-Iranian-tensions-run-high-514535

Analysis: The pragmatic Sunni front against Iran exists no more

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump have agreed that there is no military solution for the Syrian crisis.

America is adopting the disengagement policy of former president Barack Obama and abandoning the Middle East to Russia and to Iran.

This unlikely strategic coordination between the two great powers is the death knell of the revival of the grand anti-Iranian front of pragmatic Sunni states – Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt – which the American leader had so proudly announced during his visit to Riyadh last May. That front had never gotten off the ground, partly because of the break-up with Qatar and partly because of Egypt’s ambivalent attitude towards Iran now that Cairo has strengthened its ties with Moscow and is aligning its position on Syria with its new ally.

Saudi Arabia, understanding that no American intervention was forthcoming and finding itself very much alone, was instrumental in getting the Lebanese prime minister to resign, thus triggering a crisis in Lebanon as a wake-up call to get the media and world public opinion to recognize at last that Iranian terrorism is about to engulf Lebanon and is threatening not only the Gulf area but the whole Middle East.

The aftermath of the so-called Arab Spring had dashed hopes of greater democracy and ushered an outpouring of Sunni radical Islam, which brought down nation states such as Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen and is blocking a return to regional stability. In Syria, world powers and Arab states are playing a dangerous game.

The long-drawn civil war has brought nothing but suffering to the Syrian people.

The overall situation – humanitarian, social, political, and economic – is so dire that it will take years for the country to recover if this can ever happen. The Sunni majority will not readily accept to live again under an Alawi dictatorial regime; the Kurds will refuse to see the dismantlement of the de facto autonomy they have achieved by fighting Daesh in Northern Syria.

On the other hand, neither Assad nor Iran nor Russia want elections held under international supervision, which would hand over the country to the Sunni majority. This would lose no time in bringing to justice Assad and his allies for their war crimes and would speedily expel Iran, its Hezbollah proxies and the so-called popular Shia militias, which are in fact Iranian terrorist organizations.

Furthermore, the agreements allowing Russia to maintain a military presence in the Mediterranean could well be rescinded.

Taking these factors into account, there can be no overall settlement of the Syrian crisis, only limited interim agreements.

There are understandings regarding so-called de-escalation or safe zones where fighting would end and displaced civilians could return. They would be enforced by cooperation among Russia, Iran and Turkey, with the tacit agreement of the United States and the support of Egypt. Iran’s presence in Syria would thus be officially recognized.

Four zones have been agreed upon, but it has not stopped Assad’s army, assisted by Iran and Russia, from taking advantage of the weakness of rebel forces to encroach upon them. Their fate is unclear.

Iran is the undisputed winner of the situation. It is now solidly entrenched in the country and it’s hard to see who could dislodge it. It has significantly furthered its goal of advancing to the heart of the Middle East, with Russia and America looking on and doing nothing.

Its presence is making itself powerfully felt in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. It can move its loyal Shia militias through Iraq to Syria and Lebanon while providing the Houthi rebels in Yemen with sophisticated military equipment.

Saudi Arabia is increasingly uneasy at being surrounded from all sides, while Iran openly plots its downfall and that of its Emirates allies with the help of Shia minorities in the Gulf. Khomeini saw in the Saudi kingdom the main stumbling block to his aspirations to impose a Shia regime in the region, but was thwarted by the unified Sunni front then led by Egypt.

Khamenei, his successor, is still vigorously pursuing his objective with significant successes. By signing a nuclear deal behind the back of his most faithful allies, Obama effectively left the front in disarray while giving a free rein to Tehran.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, ostracized by the American president, turned to Russia and developed close military, political and economic links with Moscow, ultimately going along with its position regarding leaving Assad in place in Syria.

This led to a rift with Saudi Arabia, which is hurting the Egyptian economy.

Sisi hosted several meetings with Sunni rebels and urged them to participate in the summit in the Kazakhstan capital of Astana, where Russia, Turkey and Iran are drawing the future map of Syria.

Saudi Arabia had hoped in vain that Trump would revive the old Sunni front and even use force against Iran, as he had done in Afghanistan against Daesh and in Syria, when he ordered strikes against the Shayrat airfield used by the Syrian Army to launch chemical attacks on the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Now America is going along with Russia and recognizes an Iranian presence in Syria, thus demonstrating once again that the lack of American resolve to be once again a significant factor in the region that could prevent a takeover by Iran and its allies.

It has also abandoned the Kurds, another faithful ally. Not only did it oppose the referendum for independence of the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan established with its protection, it did not try to stop the Iraqi Army it had trained and equipped from attacking it with the help of Shia militias.

Thus, Iraq and the Kurds, two American allies it had equipped and trained who had fought together against Daesh, are now fighting each other, while Washington remains neutral and does not even try to conciliate them.

Riyadh knows only too well that it cannot confront Iran militarily, as its poor showing in Yemen has made clear. Yet it probably believes that, due to its strategic position in the heart of the Middle East and its prominent influence on fixing the price of oil in the world, it can bring the West to reevaluate its stand on Iran.

Didn’t the French president, on a tour of the Emirates, rush to see the crown prince to get a firsthand account of the resignation of Saad Hariri, which could have dangerous repercussions on the Middle East and even on Europe, heavily invested in the Gulf states? Then there is the risk of a new wave of refugees. The West, which has long refused to see the Hezbollah takeover of Lebanon and Iran’s intention to set up not only military outposts in the country but perhaps missile factories, can no longer ignore what is going on. There are reports of Shia militias already training in Hezbollah camps in the Beqaa Valley.

Israel is closely monitoring Iran’s activities in Syria and has repeatedly stated that it would not let a new terrorist front develop.

It has thwarted Hezbollah’s efforts at setting up a basis near the Golan Heights.

Following intense lobbying in Moscow and Washington, a memorandum has been signed by the two powers and Jordan to push back non-Syrian forces (Hezbollah, Iranians, Shia militias and Sunni rebels such a Fatah Elshams) 20 kilometers from southwest Syria, along the borders with Jordan and the Golan.

This is still too close for Israel’s safety.

Saudi Arabia and Israel, the two main targets of Iran, will go on fighting Iran’s aggression, each on its own way, hoping against hope that America will at last fulfill its obligations to its allies, before it is too late and a new cycle of violence begins.

The writer, a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Iran-News/Analysis-The-pragmatic-Sunni-front-against-Iran-exists-no-more-514488

Iraqi forces recapture last Islamic State-held town

BAGHDAD- Iraqi forces captured the border town of Rawa, the last remaining town under Islamic State control, on Friday, signalling the complete defeat of the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate.

The capture of the town marks the end of Islamic State’s era of territorial rule over a so-called caliphate that it proclaimed in 2014 across vast swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Iraqi forces “liberated Rawa entirely, and raised the Iraqi flag over its buildings,” Lieutenant General Abdul Ameer Rasheed Yarallah said in a statement from the Joint Operations Command.

Rawa borders Syria, whose army declared victory over the militants on Nov. 9, after seizing the last substantial town on the border with Iraq.

“With the liberation of Rawa we can say all the areas in which Daesh is present have been liberated,” a military spokesman said, referring to Islamic State by an Arabic acronym.

Iraqi forces will now focus on routing militants who fled into the desert and exert control over Iraq’s borders, he said.

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/ISIS-Threat/Iraqi-forces-recapture-last-Islamic-State-held-town-514503

PA Intel Chief arrives in Gaza

Palestinian Authority Intelligence Chief Majid Faraj on Friday arrived in the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing.

Pictures on Facebook showed Faraj shaking hands with local officials and leaders at the Erez Crossing and embracing Hamas Chief in Gaza Yahya Sinwar.

Faraj’s arrival in Gaza came less than a week before a meeting of Fatah, Hamas and other Palestinian factions in Cairo, which is supposed to deal with issues related to reconciliation.

Wafa, the official PA news agency, has not published a statement or a report on the purpose of Faraj’s visit to the Strip as of Friday afternoon.

The PA Intelligence Chief last visited Gaza in early October when a major delegation of PA officials visited the Strip.

In mid-October, Egypt brokered a deal between Hamas and Fatah to advance reconciliation efforts and restore the PA’s governing authority in Gaza. Hamas has controlled Gaza since ousting the Fatah-dominated PA in 2007 from the territory.

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/PA-Intel-Chief-arrives-in-Gaza-514510

Netanyahu: Iranian regime cares more about hating us than helping their people

Israel cares more for the Iranian people than its own government does, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday in a video message he issued from Jerusalem.

In the short message he repeated an offer that was initially made on Tuesday night to provide relief and technical assistance to regions in Iran and Iraq impacted by a magnitude 7.3 earthquake that struck Sunday evening.

The most severe such quake in a decade, it left at least 445 people dead and injured more than 7,000.

Iran has rejected Israel’s offer of assistance.
Why did Israel offer medical aid to victims of the earthquake on the Iran-Iraq border? (YouTube/IsraeliPM)

“My heart sank when I saw pictures from this great earthquake on the Irani/Iraqi border,” Netanyahu said.

“I saw mothers and fathers searching for their children, children buried under the rubble from this horrible earthquake. As a father, as an Israeli, as a Jew I wanted to help,” he continued.

“That is why yesterday I instructed that Israel offer medical aid via the Red Cross to victims of this disaster. Israel has no quarrel with the people of Iran. We never have. Our only quarrel is with the cruel Iranian regime, a regime that holds its people hostage, a regime that threatens our people with annihilation,” the premier clarified.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said that it received Israel’s offer of assistance, but that the countries impacted by the quake had not requested assistance.

It added that the Iranian Red Crescent was heading the relief effort.

In his video, Netanyahu spoke of Israel’s track record in providing disaster relief. “In past years we have sent humanitarian aid around the world, from Haiti, the Philippines, Mexico [to] many other places where disaster struck. Closer to home we treated many thousands of Syrians, Syrian civilians injured in the terrible war just beyond our border,” he said.

“We do it all this for one reason, we do it because it is the right thing to do. Too many times in my people’s history, the world failed to act when it could, the world failed to do the right thing. So we have a special sensitivity to help those in need. Today Israeli technology and medicine is saving lives around the world,” Netanyahu added.

“We will continue to offer sympathy and support to victims, no matter where they are from, even if their regime and their governments do not care for them as much as they care to hate us. We care. This is is Israel, compassionate, caring, kind,” the prime minister stressed.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Iran-News/Netanyahu-says-Israel-cares-for-Iranians-more-than-Tehran-does-after-aid-offer-rejected-514402

Iran factions use earthquake relief effort to pursue power struggle

ANKARA -— Political infighting among Iran’s ruling elite has moved on to a new battleground – the relief effort after an earthquake that killed at least 530 people and injured thousands.

Hardline media are accusing the government of pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani of reacting too slowly to last weekend’s quake, while highlighting aid work by the Revolutionary Guards — a rival power center.

While the government said enough help had been sent to the thousands of people left homeless by the devastation, media affiliated to Rouhani’s hardline rivals painted a different picture with reports from villages where survivors complained about a lack of shelter from the bitter cold.

Rouhani allies say this reflects a long-running struggle between the president and those who oppose his drive to boost the economy by improving relations with the outside world, notably through sealing a nuclear deal with world powers.

“Rouhani is very popular,” one Rouhani ally told Reuters. “It is so sad to see that even under these sad circumstances when we need unity, they are attacking his government and trying to say that the government is incompetent to help people.”

Shortly after the magnitude 7.3 quake, Iran’s worst in more than a decade, state TV aired scenes from the devastated villages in the western Kermanshah province.

Iran has so far declined offers of foreign assistance, saying planeloads of tents, blankets, mattresses and emergency food rations had arrived in areas where at least 30,000 houses have been damaged and several villages completely destroyed.

The hardline semi-official Tasnim and Fars news agencies both carried reports of the role of the Revolutionary Guards — an elite force loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — and its affiliated Basij militia force in helping the survivors.

Khamenei has called on the state agencies to speed up their efforts. “This disaster is a test for authorities to perform their duties,” he said on Tuesday. His representative, cleric Abdolhossein Moezi, told state TV after visiting Kermanshah province that more relief was needed.

Editorials in hardline newspapers adopted a sharp tone, accusing the government of failing to learn the lessons of the Bam earthquake in 2003, in which 31,000 people were killed.

State TV covered how the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) had restored some degree of normality in one of the worst hit towns, Sarpol-e Zahab.

“Immediately after the quake, the IRGC rushed to the area to help,” said Brigadier General Hossein Salami, deputy head of the Guards. “We set up shelters, field clinics … We will not leave until all survivors have a permanent shelter. Our commanders have been working around the clock.”

Commanders of the IRGC, which also runs a business empire in Iran, have repeatedly criticized Rouhani’s failure to improve the economy despite the official lifting last year of most international sanctions under the 2015 nuclear deal.

BLAME GAME

In some areas, no building was left standing, elsewhere, survivors have left homes that remain standing, fearing they could come crashing down due to aftershocks. Houses in poor Iranian villages are often made of concrete blocks or mudbrick that can quickly crumble and collapse.

Many of the heavily damaged buildings in Sarpol-e Zahab were part of an affordable housing scheme, initiated in 2011 by Rouhani’s hardline predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Angry survivors said the low-quality construction in the Mehr scheme had caused the high death toll in the town, nestled in the Zagros Mountains along the border with Iraq.

Rouhani has ordered an investigation. “It’s clear there has been corruption in construction contracts,” he told a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, state media reported. “Anyone responsible will be punished.”

Ahmadinejad’s adviser Ali Akbar Javanfekr denounced the accusations. “Heavy waves of propaganda against Mehr are aimed at covering up the weakness and inefficiency of the (Rouhani) administration in helping quake-hit people,” he said.

Major towns and cities in the Kermanshah province appeared to have escaped heavy damage, witnesses said, while many villages were destroyed.

“My mother told me to buy yogurt for dinner …. As soon as I left the house everything started to collapse,” 13-year-old Dozan told Reuters by telephone from Sarpol-e Zahab. “I ran back but my parents and sisters were dead – only rubble and dust and no home.”

Rouhani has promised more help and low-interest loans to survivors to rebuild their collapsed homes. State TV showed Iranians around the country gathering goods and warm clothes and blankets for the survivors.

“We need shelter … it is getting colder. They have distributed some tents but it was not enough,” Ahmad Irandust, 75, told Reuters from Salas Babajani village by telephone. He said his children have slept outdoor in the freezing cold since Sunday.

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Iran-factions-use-earthquake-relief-effort-to-pursue-power-struggle-514442

Russia casts 10th UN veto on Syria action, blocking inquiry renewal

Russia cast its 10th veto on Thursday of United Nations Security Council action on Syria since the war began in 2011, blocking a US-drafted resolution to renew an international inquiry into who is to blame for chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

The mandate for the joint inquiry by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which found the Syrian government used the banned nerve agent sarin in an April 4 attack, expires at midnight Thursday.

A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the United States, France, Russia, Britain or China to be adopted. The US draft text received 11 votes in favor, while Russia and Bolivia voted against it and China and Egypt abstained.

The vote sparked a war of words between Russia and the United States in the council, just hours after White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump believed he could work with Russian President Vladimir Putin on issues like Syria.

The April 4 sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens of people prompted the United States to launch missiles on a Syrian air base. US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned after the council vote on Thursday: “We will do it again if we must.”

“The Assad regime should be on clear notice – the United States does not accept Syria’s use of chemical weapons,” she told the council, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the US draft resolution was not balanced.

“We would like to remind our US colleagues and those who… supported their unrealistic draft, we would like to remind you that you bear the burden of responsibility if the mechanism cannot be salvaged,” Nebenzia told the council.

“Russia is doing everything possible to prevent that from happening,” he said.

RUSSIAN BID FAILS

Syrian ally Russia withdrew its own rival draft resolution to renew the inquiry, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), after unsuccessfully pushing for its proposal to be considered second and not first, as council rules required.

However, following the vote on the US draft, Bolivia then requested a vote on the Russian text. It failed, receiving only four votes in favor, seven against and four abstentions.

Ahead of the council votes, Trump on Thursday urged the Security Council to renew the inquiry, saying it was needed to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons.

While Russia agreed to the 2015 creation of the JIM, it has consistently questioned its findings, which also concluded that the Syrian government used chlorine as a weapon several times.

Russia has now vetoed 10 resolutions on Syria, including blocking an initial US bid on October 24 to renew the JIM, saying it wanted to wait for the release two days later of the inquiry’s report that said the Syrian government used sarin.

“Russia has killed the Joint Investigative Mechanism … Russia has undermined our ability to deter future attacks,” Haley said. “In effect Russia accepts the use of chemical weapons in Syria. How then can we trust Russia’s support for supposed peace in Syria?”

Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States.

“We condemn chemical weapons use,” Nebenzia said.

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Russia-casts-10th-UN-veto-on-Syria-action-blocking-inquiry-renewal-514476

ISIS not yet vanquished, not by a long shot, top intel experts say

Celebrations of Islamic State essentially being routed from territory in its countries of birth, Syria and Iraq, have taken off worldwide.

Yet a new and possibly the most comprehensive report to date on the future of all Islamic State arms, globally, is grim.

The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center report, obtained exclusively by The Jerusalem Post, resoundingly warns that from Libya to the Sinai Peninsula to the Philippines to foreign fighters fleeing Syria and Iraq and returning to their European countries of origin, the Pandora’s box cannot be closed.

The center is renowned for its members’ backgrounds in the Israeli intelligence community and its ongoing contacts with that community, with top current officials also authoring articles in its publications.

ISIS may no longer be a conventional force invasion threat within the Middle East and has lost its main financial weapons and physical recruitment centers. But its unique success in establishing global ISIS-chapters and using social media to facilitate ISIS-inspired attacks by local Westerners in their home countries is expected to plague Middle Eastern countries and beyond indefinitely.

Two major ISIS chapters the report said to keep a keen eye on in terms of predicting ISIS’s future in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere are its Libya and Sinai Peninsula branches.

Libya is a strong example of what is next for ISIS, the report said. Like in Syria and Iraq, ISIS Libya succeeded in controlling significant territory for an extended period, and while eventually losing control of it, the group later rallied into new forms of activity.

In Libya, ISIS seized control of the northern region known as Sirte. Around 157,000 of Libya’s 6.4 million people, with 150 miles of coastline, lived under ISIS rule in the Sirte region from early 2015 until last December.
ISIS even defeated attempts to dislodge it from Sirte in the spring of 2015, and lost control only after a seven-month battle with Libyan forces backed by US air strikes.

However, the center said, even after ISIS lost control of the region, “it did not cease to exist, but, rather, changed the pattern of its activities.”

It said that ISIS is now utilizing guerrilla warfare and typical terrorist organization tactics to continue to impact Libya, instead of fighting conventional land battles to hold on to territory.

While tactically retreating into desert areas, especially further south from its prior positions, its surviving core from Sirte is reuniting with other ISIS Libya chapters and systematically establishing new methods to raise funds, such as robbing trucks and traveling migrants.

The report said that ISIS in Libya is expected to raise its level of contact with other ISIS groups in Northern Africa and the West and become a leading area for planning and staging terrorist attacks in the West.

On November 10, Reuters reported that though security in Sirte has improved, residents remain wary of jihadis in the desert to the south, who have stepped up their attacks in recent months, even setting up checkpoints in some areas.

In a country where fighting between rival forces frequently flares, Sirte is particularly exposed, sitting in limbo between loose alliances aligned with rival governments in Tripoli and the east.

“If the situation continues like this, then Daesh [Islamic State] will come back, no doubt. There was a reason why they came. People were angry, felt sidelined,” Ali Miftah, a civil servant and father of five, told Reuters.

ISIS sleeper cells and fighters arriving to the area fleeing Syria and Iraq could also exploit continuous power vacuums in Libya, especially when it is unclear how long Libyan army forces will remain in strength to secure the area.

All of this could be a model for what to expect from ISIS in other countries, despite its loss of territory in Syria and Iraq.

Another area to keep an eye on, and of particular concern to Israel, is Sinai. The report said that Sinai, “in our estimate, is expected to continue to be a hard nut to crack.”

It said that ISIS Sinai is likely to try to replace its funding, recruiting and logistical support losses by deepening its links to ISIS chapters in other parts of Egypt, Libya and Gaza. Furthermore, the center expects ISIS Sinai to replenish its funding by a string of robberies as well as smuggling.

If Egypt’s government and Israel are hoping for fewer problems from Sinai, and for ISIS’s group there to fall apart as a result of infighting with other jihadist groups, they will be sorely disappointed, the report said.

Though there are countries where al-Qaida is expected to absorb or destroy ISIS chapters that have become more vulnerable without being connected to the Islamic “caliphate,” al-Qaida is considered uniquely weak in Sinai, said the report.
As such, the center expects ISIS Sinai to continue to stage attacks, both against Egypt’s government and against Israel, in the form of both cross-border raids and rocket strikes.

Notably, though ISIS used drones in Syria and Iraq, and Israel has faced drone threats from Hamas and Hezbollah, to date there have been no reports of ISIS Sinai threatening Israel with drones.

Regarding another threat to Israel, partially as an indirect result of ISIS’s fall, the report predicts that Iran will view ISIS’s fall as one of the greatest openings since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 for it to spread its regional influence and form a physical land and sea bridge of cross-border Shi’a pockets.

For Israel, the report confirms the Israeli intelligence community’s estimates that Iran will try “to create an active terrorist area” on “the Golan Heights border by directing action by Shi’ite actors of Hezbollah as well as Palestinians and Druse against Israel.”

In one piece of good news for Israel, the report said that any ongoing attempt by ISIS to gain footholds in Jordan, within Israel proper, the West Bank and Gaza are expected to dissipate with the fall of ISIS’s “caliphate.”
Simply put, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians never allowed ISIS to gain a foothold, and its ideology never had broad appeal in these areas.

In November 2014, at the height of ISIS’s spread throughout Syria and Iraq, its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, announced a list of its other established chapters. The list included the Hejaz region in Saudi Arabia; Yemen; Sinai; Libya; Algeria; Afghanistan-Pakistan; Alexandria, Egypt; West Africa, led by the Nigerian Boko Haram; the Caucasus (border of Europe and Asia, situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea) and the Philippines.

There were also others listed, which the report said were more of propaganda value and did not really exist substantively on the ground. Morocco has had no ISIS chapter to date, due to strong regime control of the state. But both the center and a late October report by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point expressed concern about Morocco’s future, since 33 plots against the West, including successful ones in Paris and Barcelona, can be connected to Moroccans.

ISIS Libya, ISIS Sinai and some other areas close to ISIS’s former headquarters are expected to take somewhat of a hit in resources they once received before the so-called caliphate’s fall, said the report.

Its chapters in Afghanistan-Pakistan and in parts of the Arabian Peninsula are expected to take an even bigger hit, as al-Qaida is strong in those areas and can be expected either to absorb them or even take advantage of their new vulnerability to eliminate them as competition.

ISIS chapters in Saudi Arabia and Algeria are expected to face extra pressure, since those regimes never lost central control of the state apparatus the way that a range of other Middle Eastern and African countries did during the “Arab Winter,” the report said.

But Yemen, West Africa and the Philippines are not expected to be heavily impacted by ISIS’s loss in Syria and Iraq, as, even beforehand, they did not receive extensive resources or support beyond inspirational support from ISIS in those areas, said the center.

An entirely different question is how the loss of territory in Syria and Iraq may lead to a heightened ISIS threat to the West, when fighters who came from Europe to the Middle East to fight return to their European countries of origin as radicalized ISIS actors.

Of the estimated 25,000 foreign fighters who came to fight for ISIS in the Middle East, around half in Syria and Iraq, “several thousand fighters have already returned to their states of origin, and several thousand more are waiting for an opportunity to escape Syria and Iraq” in order to return, said the report.

The center estimated that hundreds of fighters would return to both England and France, and noted that both countries also have a supportive radical Muslim infrastructure for them to interact with.

It is expected that their influence and involvement in terrorism in their states of origin will increase as their numbers in those states increase.

“The return of foreign fighters to their states of origin, in our estimation, is expected to present a difficult security dilemma to the different governments,” the report said.

This is not just because of the increase in ISIS-associated terrorists’ numbers, but also because those returning are “skilled fighters who acquired substantial military experience and absorbed the Salafist-jihadist ideology during their time fighting among the ISIS forces.”

These returning fighters are “liable to connect with local Salafist-jihadist organizations in their states and to act as an extremist motivator,” pulling them toward more radical Islamist and terrorist actions.

Furthermore, some fighters will return to their countries of origin with spouses and children raised in an atmosphere of ISIS brainwashing. This means “their children could serve as a next generation of human resource infrastructure” for ISIS, ready to grow into a new arm for carrying out terrorist attacks.

The report said it is still too soon to estimate what percentage of the fighters returning to their states would give up the cause after ISIS’s fall and how many would simply try to transfer their terrorist activities to their states of origin.

The report said that the West can expect fewer coordinated large-scale ISIS terrorist attacks. But it also noted that this may not give the West much relief, as most ISIS attacks there in 2014-2017 have been of the “ISIS-inspired” lone-wolf variety, rather than having been directly planned by ISIS.

According to the report, 28 out of 33 ISIS terrorist attacks in the West in 2014-2017 were ISIS-inspired but not directly planned by ISIS. The most recent of these attacks occurred in New York on October 31, and the wave is expected to continue.

While the volume of lone-wolf attacks may be reduced because ISIS’s brand is down after losing its Islamic Caliphate dream, the center said it takes only a small number of hard-core loyalists to continue a wave of attacks.

ISIS’s predecessor, Islamic State of Iraq, was already routed once in 2008, but came back with a vengeance in 2013-2014. The report makes it clear that despite a lack of  territory or the ability to pose an immediate threat of invasion, a third wave of ISIS terrorism is largely inevitable.

Link to full Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center Report.

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/ISIS-Threat/ISIS-not-yet-vanquished-not-by-a-long-shot-top-intel-experts-say-514449

Saudi foreign minister tells Iran: Enough is enough

RIYADH – Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir said on Thursday the kingdom’s actions in the Middle East were a response to what he called Iranian aggression, and hinted at future action against Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Long-standing arch-rivals, Riyadh and Tehran are waging a contest for power on several fronts across the region, notably in Yemen and Lebanon.

“(The Iranians) are the ones who are acting in an aggressive manner. We are reacting to that aggression and saying: ‘Enough is enough. We’re not going to let you do this anymore’,” Jubeir told Reuters in an interview.

He said Saudi Arabia was consulting its allies about what leverage to use against Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah — an Iranian ally — to end its dominance in the small Mediterranean nation and intervention in other countries.

“We will make the decision when the time comes,” he said, declining to detail what options were under consideration.

Saudi Arabia accused Lebanon last week of declaring war against it because of acts by Hezbollah, which is both a militant and political organization represented in Lebanon’s parliament and government.

Jubeir said Hezbollah, which he described as a subsidiary of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard “doing Iran’s bidding,” must disarm for Lebanon to stabilize.

“Wherever we see a problem, we see Hezbollah act as an arm or agent of Iran and this has to come to an end,” he said.

Jubeir said Iran had harbored terrorists, assassinated diplomats and interfered in other countries’ affairs – charges Tehran denies.

“If you want us to deal with you as a good neighbor, act like one. But if you continue to act in an aggressive manner, we will push back,” he said.

LEBANON

Since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman rose to power less than three years ago, Riyadh has struck a more aggressive posture towards Iran, launching a war in Yemen, leading a boycott of neighboring Qatar in part for allegedly cozying up to Tehran, and ratcheting up its rhetoric against Hezbollah.

Saad al-Hariri, a Saudi ally, resigned as Lebanon’s prime minister on Nov. 4, citing an assassination plot and accusing Iran and Hezbollah of sowing strife in the region.

Lebanese officials say Hariri had come under pressure from Riyadh, which they accuse of holding him captive despite his denials. Hariri said on Thursday he would visit Paris “very soon” and is expected to then return to Lebanon.

Jubeir repeated Saudi denials that Riyadh had forced Hariri to resign or held him against his will. “He’s a free man, he can do whatever he wants,” Jubeir said.

Asked if Saudi wanted Hariri to withdraw his resignation, Jubeir said: “That is his decision to make.”

Saudi’s top diplomat said reigning in Hezbollah was the priority and the “facade” that the group needed to hold on to its weapons should be exposed.

“If they are to support the resistance, what are they doing in Syria fighting on behalf of the regime alongside the Iranian militias?” he said, referring to President Bashar al-Assad, who is battling rebels backed in part by Saudi Arabia.

“If they are there to protect Lebanon, what are they doing in Yemen?”

YEMEN

Saudi Arabia is backing Yemen’s internationally recognized government against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in a 2-1/2 year-old war. The kingdom has been criticized for killing civilians in airstrikes there and blocking humanitarian aid.

Jubeir accused the Houthis, who control much of the country’s north, of besieging civilian areas and preventing supplies from coming in or out.

A military coalition led by the kingdom has enforced a near-blockade on Yemen, which aid agencies say has contributed to unleashing famine and disease on the already impoverished country.

It closed all air, land and sea access on Nov. 6 following the interception of a missile fired towards Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia has since said that aid can go through “liberated ports” but not Houthi-controlled Hodeidah, the conduit for the vast bulk of imports into Yemen.

Jubeir said the ports of Aden, Mokha and Midi along with Aden airport had resumed operations.

The heads of three UN agencies on Thursday warned “untold thousands” would die if the blockade stayed in place.

Jubeir also said domestic anti-corruption investigations which have netted senior Saudi princes, officials and businessmen in the past two weeks were ongoing. He rejected as “nonsense” criticisms the campaign fell foul of the law.

“Those who are guilty are likely to be referred to the courts and they will have fair, transparent trials,” he said.

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Saudi-foreign-minister-tells-Iran-Enough-is-enough-514457