Posted tagged ‘Shiite vs Sunni’

The Legacy of the Taliban: Sunni Allies of Tehran

April 20, 2017

The Legacy of the Taliban: Sunni Allies of Tehran, The Jerusalem Center via YouTube, April 20, 2017

(Please see also Taliban Decry ‘Detriments for the Environment’ from U.S. MOAB Explosion. — DM)

The blurb beneath the video states,

The West must not allow terror sanctuaries to grow, thrive, and be used to plan attacks against the West.

The U.S. decision to drop an 11-ton bomb, known as the “mother of all bombs,” in Afghanistan against an ISIS target brought back into focus that entire war and the fact that, aside from the problem of ISIS, there has still been a problem in Afghanistan of the Taliban.

How did the Taliban become so significant over the last number of years since the 9/11 attacks? It’s important to remember that the Taliban are as much a problem as the terror organizations that have congregated on Afghan soil. Taliban policies since the late 1990s involved a number of acts which they undertook which have undermined not just the security of the Middle East but also the security of the world. Of course it was the Taliban who gave sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and to al-Qaeda prior to the 9/11 attacks. They were originally located or protected by the regime in Sudan, but then in the mid-90s, bin Laden moved to Afghanistan where the Taliban had taken control and offered him a location for his training camps. It was there that bin Laden planned and implemented the horrible attack on the United States – against New York and against Washington, D.C.

One thing we’ve learned from this entire experience is that the West must not allow terror sanctuaries to grow, to thrive, and to be used to plan attacks against the West. That is the first lesson from the experience the West has had with the Taliban.

There’s a second experience with the Taliban that should be recalled. In March 2001, the Taliban decided to dynamite Buddhist statues in the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan that were 2,000 years old. These statues were located along the Silk Route and they were treasured by adherents of Buddhism, but all of a sudden the Taliban decided to attack these religious sites. The Taliban attack actually induced a debate in many radical Islamic circles about whether it was the right thing to do. At first, for example, the spiritual head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi , thought it would be a mistake for the Taliban to attack the Buddhas because it would set up Muslims to be assaulted in Buddhist countries. Later, later Qaradawi and others said, “You know what? The attack on these pre-Islamic sites was the right thing to do” and there was even a discussion about destroying pre-Islamic sites in Egypt like the pyramids and the Sphinx.

It isn’t surprising that the derivatives of al-Qaeda that have grown, like ISIS, have been attacking pre-Islamic religious sites all over the Middle East, destroying the heritage of mankind in tens of cities that were once manned and lived in by ancient empires – the Persians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians. This tendency to attack religious sites of other faiths is a very dangerous trend that really had its first modern example with the attacks of the Taliban, and they remind us of a disastrous effects of the Taliban in the years that came afterward.

A third feature of the Taliban presence in Afghanistan is an opportunity we have to learn what are the exact relations between Shiites and Sunnis. Taliban, of course, are radical Sunnis and almost everybody who starts learning about the Middle East begins thinking that Sunnis are at war with Shiites, and that’s how you understand the politics of the Middle East. But it doesn’t always work that way because the Taliban today are equipped and even trained by Iranian forces. Iran is an essential ally of the Taliban despite the fact that the Taliban are radical Sunnis and the Iranians are radical Shiites.

So if there are those who think that they could allow Iran to expand its influence around the area of the Middle East and South Asia and it won’t affect them because their enemies are essentially Sunni, they’re making a big mistake, because an expanded Iran will also enhance radical Sunnism as it has with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Ambassador Dore Gold has served as President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs since 2000. From June 2015 until October 2016 he served as Director-General of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Previously he served as Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN (1997-1999), and as an advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

 

Radical Iran-led Axis Confronted with U.S. Deterrence for First Time

April 11, 2017

Radical Iran-led Axis Confronted with U.S. Deterrence for First Time, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Yaakov Lappin, April 11, 2017

Until recently, the United States focused its attention exclusively on Sunni jihadist threats – ISIS and al-Qaida-affiliated groups. While these terrorists certainly need to be attacked, turning a blind eye to the activities of the more powerful radical Shi’ite coalition did nothing to stop the region’s destabilization. In this context, Assad’s numerous crimes against humanity went unanswered.

This helped embolden Assad to use chemical weapons. It also gave the Iranians confidence to magnify their meddling in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, and to target many other states. The end result is Iran’s enhanced ability to export its Khomeiniest Islamic fundamentalist doctrine.

Just as Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias have poured into Syria, the same has happened in Iraq, where 100,000 fighters supported by Tehran fight alongside the Iraqi government forces against ISIS. The IRGC’s network extends to Yemen’s Houthi Ansar Allah forces, who receive Iranian assistance. Ansar Allah, a heavily armed Shi’ite military force, fires ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia on a regular basis.

The IRGC and Hizballah have been linked to a recent large-scale terrorist plot in Bahrain.

If the message addressed in the cruise missile strike is followed up with a strategy of deterrence, addressed to Ayatollah Khamenei as much as it was addressed to Assad, the U.S. could begin projecting to the world that it recognizes the threat posed by Shi’ite jihadists as much as it takes seriously the threat from their fundamentalist Sunni equivalents.

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The conflict in Syria has long ceased being a civil war, becoming instead a clash between coalitions and blocs that divide the entire Middle East.

The Iranian-led axis is the most dangerous and highly armed bloc fighting in Syria. Bashar al-Assad’s regime is not an independent actor, but rather, a component of this wider axis. In many respects, Assad is a junior member of the Iranian coalition set up to fight for him.

Russia joined the Iranian axis in 2015, acting for its own reasons as the pro-Assad coalition’s air force, helping to preserve the Syrian regime.

This coalition enabled the Assad regime to conduct mass murder and ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from Syria, while also using unconventional weapons against civilians in an effort to terrorize rebel organizations into submission.

Feeling confident by its growing control of Syria, Iran also uses its regional coalition to arm, finance, and deploy Shi’ite jihadist agents all over the Middle East, and to attack those who stand in the way of Iranian domination.

The Iranian-led axis has been able to spread violence, terrorism, and Islamic militancy without facing repercussions.

Until recently, the United States focused its attention exclusively on Sunni jihadist threats – ISIS and al-Qaida-affiliated groups. While these terrorists certainly need to be attacked, turning a blind eye to the activities of the more powerful radical Shi’ite coalition did nothing to stop the region’s destabilization. In this context, Assad’s numerous crimes against humanity went unanswered.

This helped embolden Assad to use chemical weapons. It also gave the Iranians confidence to magnify their meddling in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, and to target many other states. The end result is Iran’s enhanced ability to export its Khomeiniest Islamic fundamentalist doctrine.

That sent a troubling message to America’s regional allies, who, in the face of these threats, formed a de facto coalition of pragmatic Sunni states – a coalition that includes Israel.

On April 6, the U.S. sent a signal that something may have changed. A cruise missile attack on an Assad regime air base, in response to a savage chemical weapons massacre in Idlib, Syria, was, first and foremost, a moral response to an intolerable act of evil.

But the strike also carries a wider prospective message about Washington’s new willingness to enforce red lines against Assad and his Shi’ite allies.

Potentially, it is an indication that the U.S. is willing to use its military prowess beyond the objective of targeting ISIS, and that it recognizes that Sunni jihadists are not the only global security threat that warrants the use of military force.

Statements by senior Trump administration officials indicate that a shift has occurred. “What you have in Syria is a very destructive cycle of violence perpetuated by ISIS, obviously, but also by this regime and their Iranian and Russian sponsors,” National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster told Fox News Sunday.

Russia must choose between its alignment with Assad, Iran, and Hizballah, and working with the United States, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday. The firm comment was made hours before he touched down in Moscow for talks.

According to U.S. officials, the April 6 missile attack destroyed 20 percent of Assad’s fighter jets. It represents the first time that Washington has taken military action against a member of the Iranian-led coalition.

The strike could evolve into a ‘dialogue of deterrence’ that the U.S. initiates against dangerous actors. These radical actors all have ‘return addresses,’ and are likely to prove responsive to cost-benefit considerations, despite their extreme ideology. They may think twice before considering further development and usage of unconventional weapons.

Washington is now able to exercise muscular diplomacy – the only kind that is effective in the Middle East – and inform all members of the Iran’s pro-Assad coalition that the deployment of unconventional weapons will not be tolerated. It can also begin to rally and strengthen the pro-American coalition of states in the Middle East, who seek to keep a lid on both ISIS and Iran.

With American officials indicating that they are “ready to do more” in Syria if necessary, signs suggest that the strike represents the start of a policy of deterrence, and leaving open future options for drawing additional red lines.

In theory, should Washington decide that Iran’s transfer of weapons and extremist Shi’ite military forces to other lands has reached unacceptable levels, or that Iran’s missile development program has gone far enough, it could call on Tehran to cease these activities. This call would carry substantially more weight following last week’s missile attack on the Syrian airbase.

The U.S. is in a better position to inform Assad and his allies that there is a limit to how far they can go in pursuing their murderous ambitions.

While the objective of creating a renewed American deterrent posture is vital, it should not be confused with plans for wider military intervention in the seemingly endless Syrian conflict.

There is little reason to believe that conventional weapons use against Syrian civilians is going to stop any time soon, or that the enormous tragedy suffered by the Syrian people is about to end.

And there is certainly no indication that the U.S. is planning to initiate large-scale military involvement in this failed state.

Hence, the missile strike should be seen for what it is: an attempt to boost American deterrence, which can then be leveraged to restrain radical actors that have, until now, been operating completely unchecked.

That is a message that will likely be heard loud and clear not only in Damascus, but also in Tehran, which has not given up its long-term ambition of building nuclear weapons.

North Korea, which helped build Syria’s plutonium nuclear plant (destroyed in 2007 in a reported Israeli air strike), and which maintains close links with Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, can be expected to take note as well.

If a policy of strategic deterrence follows the strike, it could have an impact on a coalition that is not just keeping Assad’s regime alive, but spreading its radical influence in many other areas.

In Syria, the Iranian Republican Guards Corps (IRGC) oversees ground operations across many battlefields to prop up Bashar al-Assad. Iran has gathered and armed tens of thousands of Shi’ite militia members from across the region into Syria, and manages a local force composed of 100,000 members. They fight alongside the Syrian Arab Army against Sunni rebel organizations, thereby increasing and entrenching Iranian influence.

The IRGC and its elite Quds Force are also helping to fill Hizballah’s weapons depots in Lebanon, with a vast array of surface-to-surface projectiles that are all pointed at Israel, often using Syria as an arms trafficking transit zone. Syria acts as a bridge that grants Iran access to Lebanon, and allows it to threaten both Israel and Jordan.

Jordan, an important U.S. ally, is deeply concerned by Iran’s actions in Syria, as evidenced by recent comments made by King Abdullah, who told the Washington Post that “there is an attempt to forge a geographic link between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah/Lebanon.” IRGC forces are stationed within a mere 45 miles from Jordan’s border, he warned, adding that any hostile forces approaching the Hashemite Kingdom “are not going to be tolerated.”

Hizballah, a Lebanese-based Iranian Shi’ite proxy, evolved into a powerful army by sending 7,000 to 9,000 of its own highly trained members into Syria’s ground war. It helped rescue the Assad regime from collapse, and took part in battles stretching from Aleppo to the Qalamoun Mountains northeast of Damascus.

Last year, the Arab League and the Sunni countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council all declared Hizballah to be a terrorist entity.

Just as Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias have poured into Syria, the same has happened in Iraq, where 100,000 fighters supported by Tehran fight alongside the Iraqi government forces against ISIS. The IRGC’s network extends to Yemen’s Houthi Ansar Allah forces, who receive Iranian assistance. Ansar Allah, a heavily armed Shi’ite military force, fires ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia on a regular basis.

The IRGC and Hizballah have been linked to a recent large-scale terrorist plot in Bahrain.

If the message addressed in the cruise missile strike is followed up with a strategy of deterrence, addressed to Ayatollah Khamenei as much as it was addressed to Assad, the U.S. could begin projecting to the world that it recognizes the threat posed by Shi’ite jihadists as much as it takes seriously the threat from their fundamentalist Sunni equivalents.

Washington’s campaign to pressure Russia to distance itself from its Middle Eastern allies could play an important part of this message.

U.S. Options in Syria Don’t Include Ground Troops

April 10, 2017

U.S. Options in Syria Don’t Include Ground Troops, PJ Media, David P. Goldman, April 10, 2017

FILE – In this file image provided on Friday, April 7, 2017 by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) launches a tomahawk land attack missile in the Mediterranean Sea. The U.S. missile attack has caused heavy damage to one of Syria’s biggest and most strategic air bases, used to launch warplanes to strike opposition-held areas in central, northern and southern Syria. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams/U.S. Navy via AP, File)

The war has already displaced half of Syria’s 22 million people, and Iran plans to replace Sunnis with Shi’ite immigrants in order to change the demographic balance. The Sunni side of the conflict has become globalized with fighters from the Russian Caucasus, China’s Xinjiang Province, as well as Southeast Asia.

The U.S. State Department last year estimated that 40,000 foreign fighters from 100 countries were in Syria; Russia cited a figure of 30,000. Whatever the number is today, it would not be difficult to add a zero to it.

Russia and China must be frightened of America’s prowess, especially in military technology. A Reagan-style effort to established unquestioned U.S. supremacy in military technology is the Big Stick we require. Tomahawk missiles are not a Big Stick. They speak loudly. Trump was magnificently right to send the signal to Moscow and Beijing, especially (as Secretary Tillerson said) in the light of Russia’s duplicity or incompetence in the matter of Syrian poison gas. Now we need to get to work.

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Writing in the Washington Post, neo-conservatives Reuel Gerecht and Ray Takeyh propose to send U.S. ground troops to fight Iran and its proxies in Iran and Syria:

It is way past time for Washington to stoke the volcano under Tehran and to challenge the regime on the limes of its Shiite empire. This will be costly and will entail the use of more American troops in both Syria and Iraq. But if we don’t do this, we will not see an end to the sectarian warfare that nurtures jihadists. We will be counting down the clock on the nuclear accord, waiting for advanced centrifuges to come on line. As with the Soviet Union vs. Ronald Reagan, to confront American resolution, the mullahs will have to pour money into their foreign ventures or suffer humiliating retreat.

They’re nuts.

It isn’t Iran that we would be fighting: It’s an international mercenary army that already includes thousands of fighters recruited from the three million Hazara Afghans now seeking refuge in Iran, from the persecuted Pakistani Shi’ites who comprise a fifth of that country’s huge population, and elsewhere. As I reported recently in Asia Times:

The IRGC’s foreign legions include volunteers from Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Shi’ites are an oppressed minority often subject to violent repression by the Sunni majority. IRGC-controlled forces include the Fatemiyoun Militia recruited mainly from Shi’ite Hazara refugees from Afghanistan, with reported manpower of perhaps 12,000 to 14,000 fighters, of whom 3,000 to 4,000 are now in Syria. Iranians also command the Zeinabiyoun militia composed of Pakistani Shi’ites, with perhaps 1,500 fighters in Syria.

The manpower pool from which these fighters are drawn is virtually bottomless. The war has already displaced half of Syria’s 22 million people, and Iran plans to replace Sunnis with Shi’ite immigrants in order to change the demographic balance. The Sunni side of the conflict has become globalized with fighters from the Russian Caucasus, China’s Xinjiang Province, as well as Southeast Asia.

The U.S. State Department last year estimated that 40,000 foreign fighters from 100 countries were in Syria; Russia cited a figure of 30,000. Whatever the number is today, it would not be difficult to add a zero to it.

Russia and China, as I explained in the cited Asia Times essay, blame the U.S. for opening the Pandora’s Box of Sunni radicalism by destroying the Iraqi State and supporting majority (that is, Shi’ite) rule in Iraq. Sadly, they are broadly correct to believe so. Thanks to the advice of Gerecht and his co-thinkers at the Weekly Standard and Commentary, the Bush administration pushed Iraq’s and Syria’s Sunnis into the hands of non-state actors like al-Qaeda and ISIS.

A seventh of Russia’s population is Muslim, and 90% of them are Sunnis. China has a restive Muslim population among the Uyghurs in its far West, and all of them are Sunnis. Moscow and Beijing therefore support Shi’ite terrorists as a counterweight to Sunni jihadists. A Eurasian Muslim civil war is unfolding as a result. Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum thinks America should let Sunnis and Shi’ites exhaust each other. If it were just Syria, that would make sense, but the Syrian conflict is the nodal point for a much larger and more dangerous conflagration. If the 300 million Muslims of Southeast Asia were to become involved, the consequences would be horrific.

Gerecht and Tayekh want the U.S. to back the anti-regime forces whom Obama left twisting in the wind during the 2009 demonstrations against Iran’s rigged elections. That is the right thing to do. The Trump administration should create a special task force for regime change in Iran and recruit PJ Media’s Michael Ledeen to run it. Iran is vulnerable to subversion. With 40% youth unemployment and extreme levels of social pathology (the rate of venereal disease infection is twenty times that of the U.S.), Iranians are miserable under the theocratic regime.

But I don’t know if that will work: Iran gets all its money from oil, and the mullahs have the oil, the money, and all the guns. If we can’t overthrow the Iranian regime, we will have two choices.

The first is to bomb Iran — destroy nuclear facilities and Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps bases. That risks war with Russia and China. It is an option, but a dangerous one, and not anyone’s first choice. We could have done this before Iran became a Russian-Chinese ally.

The second is to cut a deal with Russia and China: We muzzle the Sunni jihadists whom we (or our allies like Saudi Arabia) supported, and Russia and China cut Iran off at the knees. I sketched out such a deal in August 2016. It won’t happen easily, or any time soon, because Russia and China are not sufficiently afraid of us to want to come to the table. Russia would demand other concessions (e.g., recognition of its acquisition of territory by force in Ukraine). As the use of poison gas despite past Russian assurances makes clear, one can’t trust the Russians unless, of course, they really are scared of us.

So it all comes down to Grand Strategy: Russia and China must be frightened of America’s prowess, especially in military technology. A Reagan-style effort to established unquestioned U.S. supremacy in military technology is the Big Stick we require. Tomahawk missiles are not a Big Stick. They speak loudly. Trump was magnificently right to send the signal to Moscow and Beijing, especially (as Secretary Tillerson said) in the light of Russia’s duplicity or incompetence in the matter of Syrian poison gas. Now we need to get to work.

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Update: Christina Lin, a former senior U.S. Defense Department analyst and fellow at SAIS (and frequent Asia Times contributor), told The Diplomat in an interview today:

As a recent Israeli intelligence report documented, there are thousands of Chinese Uyghurs fighting in the ranks of al-Qaeda affiliates and ISIS in Syria, namely in the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) based in Idlib — an al-Qaeda stronghold. The August 30, 2016 bombing of the Chinese embassy in  Krgyzstan, planned by TIP in Syria and financed by Al Nusra, signals increasing threats to Chinese citizens and interests overseas if Syria becomes a terrorist safe haven.

Because of “inter-mingling” with Ahrar al Sham and other so called “moderate” jihadists, TIP and Nusra enjoy U.S. and its allies’ protection even though they are designated as terrorist organizations. The have procured advanced Western weapons such as U.S.-supplied anti-tank TOW missiles, Grad missiles, and likely anti-aircraft MANPADS, and drones that they used to record their recent suicide campaigns against the Syrian army. These Western weapons enhance their war fighting capabilities to launch future attacks on China and Chinese interests, so Beijing will likely step up its military support to the Syrian army. Chinese military advisers are already on the ground in Syria, according to media reports.

Lies and Hypocrisy over Aleppo

December 21, 2016

Lies and Hypocrisy over Aleppo, Front Page Magazine, Daniel Greenfield, December 21, 2016

aleppo4

There are no good guys in an Islamic civil war. Both sides operate by Mohammed’s ancient Islamic rules that treat the property and women of conquered populations as the rightful loot of the attackers. The atrocities of Shiites and Sunnis, Iranians and Alawites, ISIS, Al-Nusra and the countless Sunni bands are not aberrations from civilized norms, they are the entire horrid purpose of this Islamic conflict.

There are no innocent victims in an Islamic civil war because neither side believes in anything except demonstrating the Allahu Akbaring supremacy of their religious doctrine by subjugating the other.

Aleppo was once a great center of civilization. Under Islam, it became a sad remnant of its former past. Whoever wins in Aleppo, it is a victory for Islamist triumphalism and a defeat for human civilization.

The bigger question is not who wins in Aleppo, but who will win in Paris, Brussels and Rome.

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250,000 Christians lived in Aleppo before the Sunni-Shiite Islamic civil war began. Today their numbers have fallen to 40,000.

There were no worldwide protests over this ethnic cleansing of Christians from Aleppo as there are over the fall of the Sunni Islamic state whose Jihadis are euphemistically described as rebels. There were no photos of crying Christian children blanketing every media outlet. But today you can hardly open a newspaper without seeing a teary Sunni Muslim kid allegedly being evacuated from Aleppo.

Given a chance, the weeping Sunni Muslims did to their Christian neighbors in Aleppo what they had done to them back during the Aleppo Massacre a hundred years ago when they were upset that the decline of Islamic Sharia power led to Christians gaining some civil rights. The Jewish population of Aleppo, which had once made up 5% of the city, had already been wiped out in the 1947 Muslim riots.

The last Jewish family was evacuated from Aleppo to escape the Sunni Jihadis two years ago.

The destruction of the Jewish and Christian communities of Aleppo happened without a fraction of the hysterical tumult over the defeat of the Sunni Jihadis and their fellow Muslim religious dependents.

“Aleppo will join the ranks of those events in world history that define modern evil, that stain our conscience decades later,” Samantha Power declared at the United Nations.

Why doesn’t the ethnic cleansing of 210,000 Christians stain Power’s conscience? Or the church bombings by Islamists in Egypt, the stabbings of Jewish women in Israel and the Boko Haram genocide of Christians in Nigeria? True modern evil is the righteous conviction of liberals that only Muslim lives matter and that their Christian, Jewish and other non-Muslim victims somehow have it coming.

The fall of the Sunni theocracy is denounced as an outrage that will stain the conscience of the world. Journalists have taken a break from their ski vacations to lecture us on how we should have done something. That “something” being the thing they didn’t want us to do in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein had butchered hundreds of thousands, but that is somehow now a moral imperative in Syria.

Why do the Sunni Muslims of Aleppo matter while the ethnically cleansed Christians of Aleppo don’t? And why was removing Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, a crime that liberals still howl about while removing Assad, an Alawite Shiite, is a moral imperative? Because the “righteousness” axis of our foreign policy is controlled by the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, the Sunni Saudis and the rest of their Sunni Gulfie ilk.

The Muslim Brotherhood set our agenda for the Arab Spring. It’s why our government and our human rights organization backed the popular overthrow of Mubarak, but fought the popular overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi. Kenneth Roth, the head of Human Rights Watch, an organization which despite its name has solicited money from the Saudis, the sugar daddies of the Sunni Jihad, sneers at Copts for supporting the “persecution” of the Muslim Brotherhood. That’s not just Orwellian. It’s evil.

The outrage over Aleppo is a surreal partnership between Islamist butchers and their left-wing enablers.

“Are you truly incapable of shame?” Samantha Power demanded of Syria, Russia and Iran at the UN.

It goes without saying that three brutal dictatorships whose crimes run the gamut from raping teenage girls so that they won’t die as virgins and be allowed into Islamic paradise to radioactive poisonings of its political opponents have nothing that resembles shame or conscience.

But where is Samantha Power’s shame? The Iranian advance in Aleppo is funded by illegal cash shipments that Obama put on unmarked cargo planes and delivered to Iran’s Shiite Jihadists. Iran’s military budget increased 39% thanks to Obama’s cargo pallets full of Swiss Francs and Euros.

The barrel bombs that Power so angrily condemns were bought and paid for by her own boss. They were enabled by every American liberal who switched from defending the proposed Iranian nuclear genocide of millions of Jews to bewailing the Iranian attack on the Muslim Brotherhood in Aleppo.

Where is their shame? Is the American leftist even capable of shame anymore?

Obama’s inaction in Syria wasn’t caused by any philosophical struggle over the limits of intervention, as his media lackeys would have us to believe. The truth is uglier, simpler and more outrageous.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner couldn’t make up his mind if he wanted to back the Sunni or Shiite Islamists. Russia, which went all in on the Shiites, won. Obama tried to play both Islamist sides, funneling arms to the Sunni Jihadists in Syria and cash pallets to the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. He backed the Shiite regime in Baghdad over the Sunnis in Iraq. But he aided the Sunni Jihadis in Syria over the Shiite government in Damascus. Yet he was afraid to go all in for fear of trashing the Iran nuke sellout that even he admits will create a Shiite bomb in a little over a decade.

All the noise over Aleppo doesn’t testify to an atrocity, but to the enormous power of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Saudi lobby to control not only our politicians, but our national narratives.

There is no doubt that the Shiite Jihadist gangs will extract their blood price from Sunnis in Aleppo, that money and gems will disappear, women will be raped and bodies will wind up in mass graves. But the death toll will fall far short of the hysterical rhetoric about Rwanda. And what will happen to Sunnis in Aleppo is the same thing that happened to Shiites when Sunni Jihadists seized a town or village.

There are no good guys in an Islamic civil war. Both sides operate by Mohammed’s ancient Islamic rules that treat the property and women of conquered populations as the rightful loot of the attackers. The atrocities of Shiites and Sunnis, Iranians and Alawites, ISIS, Al-Nusra and the countless Sunni bands are not aberrations from civilized norms, they are the entire horrid purpose of this Islamic conflict.

There are no innocent victims in an Islamic civil war because neither side believes in anything except demonstrating the Allahu Akbaring supremacy of their religious doctrine by subjugating the other.

Beheading captives, raping their wives and looting their belongings was how Islamic Jihadis, dating back to Mohammed, knew that Allah was on their side and favored their murderous cause.

The Jewish population of the Middle East now exists almost entirely in Israel, protected by guns wielded, as often as not, by the descendants of Jewish refugees from Islamic oppression in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Iran. The Christian population, lacking an independent state of its own, continues to dwindle, dependent on the shaky goodwill of dictators like Mubarak or Assad who find them temporarily useful.

There is no future for non-Muslims in the Muslim world. Christians and Jews in the Middle East first achieved civil rights when European powers gained sway over the region. As Muslim migrants swarm into Europe, Jews and Christians now face Muslim persecution in France, Sweden and Germany.

But the media is far less interested in the tears on the face of 8-year-old Miriam Monsonego in Toulouse when a Muslim terrorist grabbed her by the hair, put a gun to her head in the schoolyard where she had been playing moments ago and pulled the trigger. The gun jammed. He switched guns and shot her. Then, as she lay bleeding, he lifted up her little head and shot the dying Jewish girl two more times.

Muslims in France consider the Muslim terrorist who did this a hero. A child was even named after him.

The Sunni Muslim Jihadis fleeing Aleppo like rats are the same breed of Allah’s killers as the murderer of a little girl in Toulouse, as the hijackers of September 11, as the San Bernardino shooters, the Boston Marathon bombers, the Benghazi militias, the rapists of Yazidi girls and the bombers of Coptic churches.

They are human predators that have nothing that resembles a conscience as we understand it. Their religious doctrine has taught them that preying on non-Muslims and the wrong kind of Muslims is their duty. They believe that their rapes and murders are proof that they love Allah and Allah loves them.

It is as impossible for us to coexist with Islamic supremacists as it was for the Christians and Jews of Aleppo. You can share a room with a tiger, but eventually the tiger will try to eat you.

Aleppo is a tragedy, but not because of the hypocritical theater of lies that the media has put on for us. The tragedy of Aleppo isn’t that of the Sunni Jihadis who failed to conquer the city and complete their ethnic cleansing of the last Christians living there, but of the endless war of Islam against non-Muslims.

And of the collaboration of those who call themselves liberals in that war against human civilization.

Aleppo was once a great center of civilization. Under Islam, it became a sad remnant of its former past. Whoever wins in Aleppo, it is a victory for Islamist triumphalism and a defeat for human civilization.

The bigger question is not who wins in Aleppo, but who will win in Paris, Brussels and Rome.

Iran and the Houthis of Yemen

November 29, 2016

Iran and the Houthis of Yemen, Front Page MagazineJoseph Puder, November 29, 2016

shia

Lt. Gen. Sir Graeme Lamb, former head of U.K. Special Forces, wrote in The Telegraph (September 2, 2016), “Iran’s involvement in Yemen must be seen in the broader context of its strategy of challenging the existing Middle East order by generating unrest, which then allows it to maneuver an advantage through the resulting uncertainty.  Iranian military forces and their proxies predominate in Iraq and Syria, while other proxies have a long history of involvement in Lebanon and Gaza.  Nor are these forces likely to leave the region when the immediate threats such as ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) are pushed underground or displaced, as we, the West, will.” 

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Arab News has reported on November 23, 2016 that Yemen’s Houthi rebels and supporters of the former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh are responsible for the killing of 9,646 civilians.  8,146 of them men, 597 women, and 903 children, from January 1, 2015 to September 30, 2016 in 16 Yemeni provinces.  According to Shami Al-Daheri, a military analyst and strategic expert, the Houthis are being led by Iran and follow Tehran’s orders.  “They are moving in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria following Tehran’s orders.  If the country sees there is pressure on its supporters in Iraq, it issues orders to the Houthis in Yemen to carry out more criminal acts in order to divert attention and ease pressure on its proxies in these countries.”

The brutality of the Iran led campaign in Syria, and U.S. voices calling for some form of intervention, might have prompted Tehran to give the Houthis a green light to attack American naval ships. The Houthis fired three missiles at the U.S. Navy ship USS Mason last month, in all probability following Tehran’s orders. In retaliation, U.S. Navy destroyer USS Nitze launched Tomahawk cruise missiles, destroying three coastal radar sites in areas of Yemen controlled by the Houthis.  These radar installations were active during previous attacks, and attempted attacks on ships navigating the Red Sea. The USS Mason did not sustain any damage.  U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the top American commander in the Middle East, said that he suspected Iran’s Shiite Islamic Republic to be behind the twice launched missiles by the Houthi rebels against U.S. ships in the Red Sea.

Al-Arabiya TV (August 16, 2016) claimed that Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) said that missiles made in Tehran were also recently used in Yemen by Houthi militias in cross border attacks against Saudi Arabia.  The Saudis it seems, were able to intercept the Iranian manufactured Zelzal-3 rockets, also delivered to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Assad regime forces in Syria.  The rockets were fired into the Saudi border city of Najran, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.  The Saudi-led coalition has been targeting the Houthis in an effort to restore the internationally-recognized Yemeni president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

The conflict in Yemen has its recent roots in the failure of the political transition that was supposed to bring a measure of stability to Yemen following an uprising in November, 2011 (The Year of the Arab Spring) that forced its longtime authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to hand over power to his deputy, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.  President Hadi had to deal with a variety of problems, including attacks by al-Qaeda, a separatist movement in the South, the loyalty of many of the army officers to the former President Saleh, as well as, unemployment, corruption, and food insecurity.

The Zaidi-Shiite Houthi minority captured Yemen’s capital Sanaa on September 21, 2014. They were helped by the Islamic Republic of Iran, who have provided the rebel Houthis with arms, training, and money.  As fellow Shiite-Muslims, the Houthis became another Iranian proxy harnessed to destabilize the Sunni-led Arab Gulf states, and Saudi Arabia.  Since 2004, the Houthis have fought the central government of Yemen from their stronghold of Saadah in northern Yemen.  The Houthis are named after Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, who headed the insurgency in 2004 and was subsequently killed by Yemeni army forces.  The Houthis, who are allied with Ali Abdullah Saleh, against Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, the legitimate President of Yemen, have the support of many army units and control most of the north, including the capital, Sanaa.

The Houthis launched a series of military rebellions against Ali Abdullah Saleh in the previous decade. Recently, sensing the new president’s (Hadi) weakness, they took control of their Northern heartland of Saadah province and neighboring areas.  Disillusioned by the transition of power and Hadi’s weakness, many Yemenis, including Sunnis, supported the Houthi onslaught.  In January, 2015, the Houthis surrounded the Presidential palace in Sanaa, placing President Hadi and his cabinet under virtual house arrest. The following month, President Hadi managed to escape to the Southern port city of Aden.

Yemen is another flashpoint in the conflict between Shiite-Muslim Iran and Sunni-Muslim Saudi Arabia, over regional power and influence.  Sanaa, along with Baghdad, Damascus, and Beirut are Arab capitals now forming the so called Shiite “arc of influence.”   In Baghdad, the site of the Abbasid Sunni Caliphate, the Shiites dominate the government of Haider al-Abadi.  In Damascus, the capital of the Umayyad Sunni Caliphate, Bashar Assad, an Alawi (offshoot of Shiite Islam) dictator, is ruling over a Sunni majority in a state of civil war.  Iran, its Revolutionary Guards, Iraqi Shiite militias, and the Lebanese Shiite proxy Hezbollah, are fighting Sunni Islamists, and genuine Syrian Sunnis, who are frustrated with being ruled by a minority dictator.  Beirut is dominated by Hezbollah, the only group allowed to carry arms, whose power exceeds that of the Lebanese army, and whose masters in Tehran set its priorities.

Lt. Gen. Sir Graeme Lamb, former head of U.K. Special Forces, wrote in The Telegraph (September 2, 2016), “Iran’s involvement in Yemen must be seen in the broader context of its strategy of challenging the existing Middle East order by generating unrest, which then allows it to maneuver an advantage through the resulting uncertainty.  Iranian military forces and their proxies predominate in Iraq and Syria, while other proxies have a long history of involvement in Lebanon and Gaza.  Nor are these forces likely to leave the region when the immediate threats such as ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) are pushed underground or displaced, as we, the West, will.”

Gen. Lamb asserted that “the tragedy of Yemen is that it has become, over the decades, a sphere of contested influence between the grand masters of Empire and superpowers: East against West, Communism versus Capitalism.  Today, it is Iranian backed Shiite revivalism against Sunni status quo, an emerging order versus an existing order.”  According to Gen. Lamb, Tehran has dissuaded the Houthis from accepting a U.N. peace plan in favor of creating its own “supreme political council” to challenge the legitimate Yemeni government of Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

It is tempting for Tehran to enter the exposed underbelly of Saudi Arabia though the Houthis control of Northern Yemen, bordering Saudi Arabia. It is however, too expensive a proposition for the Islamic Republic to have to fund another proxy – a failing state like Yemen.  While Hezbollah requires millions of dollars in support, Yemen would require billions.  Iran is spending a great deal in support of the Assad regime in Syria, Hamas in Gaza, and loyalist Iraqi Shiite militias.  Iran would nevertheless like to control the sea lanes into the Red Sea and have access to the Bab Al Mandeb strait, which connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.  This would provide it with a strategic vantage point in threatening the U.S. and the West.

Iran’s meddling in Yemen is another example of its Shiite revivalism, and its challenge of the existing Middle East order, regardless of the cost in human lives that its proxies (Houthis, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iraqi Shiite militias) are inflicting.

Together With Its Allies, The Syrian Regime Is Forcing Demographic Change In Areas Of The Country – For Self-Protection And Self-Preservation

November 15, 2016

Together With Its Allies, The Syrian Regime Is Forcing Demographic Change In Areas Of The Country – For Self-Protection And Self-Preservation, MEMRI, E. B. Picali* November 15, 2016

Introduction

Throughout the five and a half years of the war in Syria, and along with military action against the rebels, the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, together with Iran, Hizbullah, and the pro-Assad militias, have implemented various measures to change the demographics of regions populated primarily by pro-rebel Sunnis, replacing them with pro-regime groups, primarily Alawites and Shi’ites.

These moves appear to be aimed at creating a homogenously pro-regime area with a Shi’ite and Alawite majority in a geographic region many refer to by the post-World War I term La Syrie Utile (“Useful Syria”). This is aimed at helping ensure the survival of the Syrian regime and of its strategic depth with Hizbullah in Lebanon and with Iran, in the event that Syria ends up being divided in any way as a solution to the crisis.

President Assad outlined this policy in a July 26, 2015 speech, saying: “The homeland does not belong to those who live there, nor to those who hold a passport or are citizens. The homeland belongs to those who protect and guard it.” Assad explained that circumstances on the ground require the Syrian army to withdraw from various areas “so that it can protect other, more important regions” and that the regime army “cannot fight on all fronts out of fear of losing control in certain areas, [and therefore] we relinquish [certain] regions in favor of important areas under our control.” These statements have been interpreted by Syrian opposition elements as proof that such a La Syrie Utile project is indeed underway.[1]

The Assad regime seems to be using a number of methods to carry out this project, including expelling its non-Shi’ite population that is not loyal to Assad and replacing it with an Assad-loyalist Shi’ite or Alawite population; agreements regarding the removal and replacement of local residents; killing and intimidating residents; demolishing homes and burning farmland; besieging towns and starving residents; offering besieged residents food if they sell their land to the regime; burning down land registration offices to destroy records; the buying up of land and homes by Iranian agents. In addition to these methods are the continued Shi’ization of the area, which has been underway for some time.[2]

Some of these measures, particularly the agreements for the removal and replacement of local residents, have been carried out under the auspices of the UN. Both the regime and the UN have been harshly criticized for them, by elements in the Syrian opposition as well as by anti-Syrian regime elements in Lebanon.

This report will review the purpose of this removal of local populations from areas of Syria, the means used to do so, and criticism of it and of the UN. The main sources cited in this report are anti-Syrian regime, anti-Iran, and anti-Hizbullah.

Creating A Homogenously Pro-Regime Geographic Region Stretching From Western Syria To Lebanon – To Ensure The Survival Of The Regime And Of Its Strategic Depth With Hizbullah And Iran

As stated, the army of the Syrian regime, along with Iran, Hizbullah, and the pro-regime militias, have been working to change the demographics of regions of Syria, using various means to remove their mostly Sunni pro-rebel residents, who include Palestinians, and replacing them with a pro-regime population. These measures are being carried out primarily in Damascus and its surroundings, in the west of the country along Lebanon’s northern and central Beqaa Valley, and along the Damascus-Beirut highway, with the aim of creating a contiguous region from Tartus to Latakia on the Mediterranean coast eastward to Homs and southward to Damascus – and perhaps even farther south to Quneitra – that will ultimately be populated solely by pro-Assad Shi’ites, Alawites, and others. Many refer to this region as La Syrie Utile, because it  will serve the Syrian regime and Iran if Syria ends up divided as part of a solution to the crisis.

30686La Syrie Utile region (Alkhaleejonline.net, Istanbul-city-guide.com/map/Latakia-map)

Originally, the term La Syrie Utile, coined following World War I by the French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon, referred to the borders of Greater Syria minus Jordan and Palestine. It defined the area of the Levant that at that time was considered economically and demographically more important and more central than other areas. The area the term refers to today covers nearly all of Syria’s most important economic, administrative, and demographic areas. Many Syrian oppositionists saw proof that the Assad regime had a plan to make this region demographically homogenous and pro-regime in Assad’s July 26, 2016 speech to union officials at the presidential palace in Damascus. In it, Assad explained that circumstances on the ground require the Syrian army to withdraw from various areas “so that it can protect other, more important regions” and that the regime army “cannot fight on all fronts out of fear of losing control in certain areas, [and therefore] we relinquish [certain] regions in favor of important areas under our control.”[3]

Today’s La Syrie Utile region borders on the regime’s strategic depth in Lebanon, that is, the areas controlled by Hizbullah and its allies. These include the northern Beqaa Valley, which has a decisive Shi’ite majority; parts of the central Beqaa Valley, whose border with Syria is controlled by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC); and the Damascus-Beirut highway. Following extensive removal of the original residents by various means, the Syrian regime and its allies now control a large swath of Syria’s western regions and parts of eastern Lebanon in which the population is loyal to tem, rendering actual international borders nearly meaningless.

Syria’s creation of pro-regime demographic homogeneity within this region serves Iranian plans to control Syria and Lebanon, and serves the Iran-Hizbullah relationship. In January 2016, the anti-Iran Lebanese lawyer Nabil Al-Halabi, who heads the Lebanese Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (LIFE), told the Syrian oppositionist website Orient News: “Iran’s agenda in Syria is aimed at creating a large expanse… that will incorporate the entire [Syrian] border into Lebanon’s northern and eastern Beqaa and will connect them to the Baalbek-Hermel area [that is, Lebanon’s northern Beqaa], so as to transform it into an Iranian statelet subordinate to [Iran’s] Rule of the Jurisprudent.”[4] Similar statements were made by ‘Abdelilah Fahd, of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.[5]

In this context it should be mentioned that as early as three years ago, Lebanese newspapers that are known to support Hizbullah, Syria, and the resistance axis published articles about the importance of this geographic region in Syria and the need to connect it to the Lebanese depth so as to create a single area that will ensure the survival of the Syrian regime, Hizbullah’s strategic depth in Syria, and the geographic connection between them.[6]

Syrian oppositionists and anti-Assad Lebanese have warned about this plan. In August 2016, Syrian oppositionist Ahmad Abazid told the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: “The implementation of the plan [to bring about] a demographic shift in Syria began in the last quarter of 2012, with the regime using Shi’ite militias to change the composition of the population around Damascus and near the Lebanese border.”[7] Earlier, in February 2016, Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who was aware of the ramifications of this move for Lebanon, warned: “Lebanon could become a new province of La Syrie Utile, which the Syria-Iran axis is attempting to establish from Daraa to Tartus to Latakia.”[8]

Methods And Means Used By Regime And Its Allies To Create Pro-Regime Homogeneity In La Syrie Utile Region

For the past few years, Arab media, and particularly Syrian and Lebanese media hostile to the resistance axis, have been reporting on what is happening to the mostly Sunni anti-regime population in Damascus and its environs; in Homs, on the Damascus-Tartus road; in the towns of Al-Qusayr and Baniyas, between Homs and the northern Lebanese Beqaa Valley; in Al-Zabadani, north of the Damascus-Beirut highway; and recently also in the town of Madaya (on the Damascus-Beirut highway) and in Darayya (south of Damascus). The latter two locales have been in the news because of the regime’s systematic starvation and expulsion of their residents.[9] These reports reveal a wide range of violent methods used by the Syrian regime, Iran, and Hizbullah to shift the mostly Sunni population that they do not want there, including besieging towns and starving their residents;[10] transferring residents as part of ceasefire agreements; demolishing homes and burning farmland; setting up roadblocks to monitor and intimidate the population; forcing residents to sell their property; burning land registration offices in order to destroy records; and killing residents and intimidating the survivors. In addition to these methods are Shi’ization (on which see below) and, following the removal of Sunni and anti-regime residents, settling Shi’ite, ‘Alawite, and other pro-regime families in these areas.

30687“The evacuation of Darayya” ( Al-Arab, Qatar, August 28, 2016)

 Following are examples of these methods, which Syrian regime opponents claim constitute “sectarian cleansing”:

Expelling Non-Shi’ite Residents From La Syrie Utile Region

One violent method used by the regime and its allies to create demographic homogeneity has been expelling non-Shi’ite anti-Assad residents and making it impossible for them to return. Sometimes this is done by intimidating residents and threatening them with death so that they will leave of their own accord.

Thus, for example, in August 2015, the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal, which is known to oppose Hizbullah and the Syrian regime, cited General Authority of the Syrian Revolution (GASR) spokesman Ahmad Al-Qusayr as saying that since it occupied the town of Al-Qusayr in June 2013, Hizbullah has expelled most non-Shi’ite residents of the surrounding villages and is preventing them from returning to their homes.[11]

A November 2015 report in another Lebanese daily, Al-Safir, which supports the resistance axis, provided proof for the claim that Hizbullah and the Syrian regime are preventing residents of Al-Qusayr from returning to their homes. Reporting from the town, Al-Safir reporter Ali Duraij said that only former residents whose names are on a Syrian Army list may enter. The daily also quoted a Syrian soldier as saying that pro-rebel residents would only be returning to the town “over the soldiers’ dead bodies.”[12]

In March 2015, the Egyptian news portal Masr Al-Arabia quoted a young man residing in the old city of Damascus as saying that Shi’ite militias are threatening local young Sunnis with forced labor in order to drive them out of the city, and that as a result many families have abandoned their homes. It also reported that Damascenes are saying that Hizbullah is preventing families who have left from returning to their homes in neighborhoods that Hizbullah has taken over and made into strongholds.[13]

In January 2015, the Syrian oppositionist website Orient News reported that when Hizbullah and other Shi’ite militias occupied the town of Sayyidah Zaynab and others surrounding it, south of Damascus, they executed residents and left their bodies lying in the street to terrorize others and spur them to leave on their own. The remaining residents were forcefully expelled, and the area was transformed into a center for Shi’ite militiamen and their families. Abu Nasser Al-Shami, an opposition activist in southern Damascus, said that the expelled residents had repeatedly tried to return to their homes but that the Shi’ite militias had prevented them from doing so.[14]

The regime has also razed entire neighborhoods in Damascus and Homs as part of new infrastructure plans. Alsouria.net cited Syrian legal expert ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz as stating, in August 2015, that Assad’s Presidential Decree No. 66, of 2012, ordering  the demolition of thousands of homes and other buildings in the neighborhoods of Al-Mezzeh, Kafr Soussa, and others in southern Damascus, and the construction of new homes in their place, was aimed at expelling their original residents, since Al-Mezzeh and Kafr Sousa are strategic strongholds housing important security facilities of the Syrian regime.[15] Two months previously, in June 2015, the London-based Qatari daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi had cited an Al-Mezzeh resident as saying that the regime had ordered hundreds of families living east of the neighborhood and near the Iranian Embassy to leave their homes because they were going to be demolished to make way for “Iranian towers.”[16]

Following the regime’s approval of two new plans for infrastructure for Homs’ Baba Amr neighborhood,  local residents claimed that the plans as they were approved by the city council are aimed at expelling them from their homes as retribution for their support for the rebels.[17]

On March 20, 2016, Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported, citing Syrian activists and eyewitnesses, on the construction of a nonconventional military facility and on the excavation of tunnels, with help from Iranian experts, on the Syria-Lebanon border and near the Damascus-Beirut highway, and that local residents were being expelled, their homes were being razed, and trees were being uprooted.[18] The following day, the daily again reported that it was feared that the facilities were for the storage of chemical or other nonconventional weapons.[19]

On June 11, 2016, Al-Quds Al-Arabi correspondent ‘Omar Muhammad in the town of Madaya reported that Hizbullah fighters who control the southern approach to the town had forced 16 local families to immediately evacuate their homes. According to Muhammad, the fighters then looted the buildings, torched them, and took over the land, as part of the plan to change the demographics of the Damascus environs.[20]  

Pro-Rebel Residents Out, Shi’ite And Alawite Families In

Another method being used by the regime and its allies to change the demographics of the region is to settle Shi’ite and ‘Alawite families in areas from which non-Shi’ite residents have been removed. In many cases, ownership of the properties is transferred to the new residents without the original owners’ knowledge, and land registration offices have been burned down in order to remove all evidence of original ownership. Fields have also been burned, and homes razed.

In August 2015, the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal reported that privately owned farmland surrounding the town of Al-Qusayr that belonged to Syrians who had been forced to leave their homes was being sold at attractive prices and on installment plans to “a specific sector” (likely pro-Hizbullah) of Lebanese citizens. Additionally, according to the report, Hizbullah had demolished the homes of residents “one after another.”[21] Previously, the newspaper reported that Hizbullah was settling its own fighters and their families in homes abandoned by the locals.[22]

Further evidence that Shi’ites were being moved into Al-Qusayr appeared in an August 2015 article discussing the population transfer methods being used by the regime and its allies, that was posted on the Syrian oppositionist website Alsouria.net. The article cited Samer Al-Homsi, a Syrian oppositionist in Homs, as stating that Hizbullah was settling the families of its fighters in Al-Qusayr.[23] Al-Homsi added that the Homs provincial council, which he said supported the regime, had posted notices on the doors of shops in the city’s old marketplace warning that if they did not open for business the property would be expropriated and turned over to new owners – while the regime was preventing the shop owners from returning to the city. He said that the regime is transfering these properties to newly arrived Alawite and Shi’ite families with security clearance.

The article also stated that the Syrian regime and Hizbullah had burned down the land registration office and other buildings in the city where real estate records were stored, so as to eliminate evidence of the ownership of thousands of properties.[24] The anti-Hizbullah Shi’ite-Lebanese website Janoubia.com also cited a source that said that the regime had transferred these properties to Iraqi and Lebanese Shi’ites, as well as to Alawites.[25]

The same thing happened in the old city of Damascus. A Masr Al-Arabia report quoted a young resident who said that homes abandoned by their original residents now house Lebanese, Iraqi, and Afghan militiamen whose families recently received Syrian citizenship, as well as displaced non-Sunni Syrians – all in accordance with a regime order giving itself the right to rent out these homes and to hold the rent received in escrow for the owners.[26] The report also quoted residents as saying that the regime had decreed that homes in Damascus may only be rented to people approved by the security authorities – and that only Iraqi, Iranian, Afghan, and Lebanese fighters are approved.[27]

The Syrian oppositionist website All4syria.info reported that in the town of Sayyidah Zaynab in the Rif Dimashq Governorate, Shi’ite militias were settling Shi’ite refugees from Basra, Iraq in homes whose owners had been removed. The report also quoted young resident Abu Radwan Al-Shami as saying said that a militia member had taken over his family home  and refused to leave despite his demands that he do so. Upon appealing to the police, Al-Shami was told that these militiamen are “guests who must be welcomed, and who cannot be removed.” The policemen cited Assad’s speech about  the land belonging to those who fight and defend it.[28]

An Al-Zabadani city councilmember told the London-based Al-Arabi Al-Jadid daily that the regime had demolished some 95% of the homes and commercial areas in the city, set fire to much of the farmland south and southwest of the city, near Madaya, and capped irrigation wells used by the farmers, all in an effort to force residents to leave. Media personality Faris Al-Arabi attested to the torching of orchards and buildings in these areas. According to Al-Zabadani residents, the town’s commerce and agriculturehad provided a livelihood for thousands, and the city is no longer worth living in because its economy and infrastructure have been completely destroyed.[29]

Hizbullah and the Syrian military have used the tactic of burning farmlands in the Madaya region as well, as reported on September 11,  2016  by the Syrian oppositionist website Enabbaladi.net.[30]

On September 6, 2016, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat cited a source close to the Iraqi militias in Syria as stating that the Iran-backed Al-Nujaba militia had begun settling some 300 Shi’ite families from southern Iraq in the towns of Darayya and Muadamiyat Al-Sham, southwest of Damascus. According to the report, the towns’ original residents had left as part of population transfer agreements (see following section).[31]

Siege, Starvation, And UN-Sponsored Population Transfer

The Syrian regime, along with Hizbullah and its other allies, are also besieging areas and starving the residents,[32] with the aim of wearing down the local population, causing it to turn against the rebels, and leveraging it to push rebel forces into signing local ceasefire agreements. The Assad regime calls these ceasefire agreements “national reconciliations” or “local reconciliations,” spinning them as a rebel surrender – while in actuality they involve the uprooting of pro-rebel residents and their transfer outside the La Syrie Utile region. This has been implemented in many places, particularly in Homs, the Al-Yarmouk refugee camp, Al-Zabadani, and Madaya and Darayya.

Some of the siege-lifting agreements have been sponsored by UN representatives, even though they were achieved by harsh sieges and by starving local residents, and involved removing residents from their homes and  the departure of the rebels and their families under population transfer agreements. From 2014 to 2016, the regime and the rebels arrived at a number of agreements under which the regime lifted the siege, stopped bombardment, and allowed humanitarian aid into the area, in return for the rebels’ and their families’ departure. Such UN-sponsored agreements have been signed for Homs’ old city[33] and parts of its Al-Waer neighborhood.[34] They were also signed for the majority-Turkmen towns of Kezhal and Umm Al-Qasab in western Rif Homs; rebel families from these towns were transferred to the northern Rif Homs.[35]

30688Residents of Turkmen towns west of Homs exiled north of Homs (All4syria.info, July 17, 2016)

Nabil Al-Halabi, the Lebanese lawyer and LIFE director, said that in Homs’ old city the regime had offered food to besieged residents who wanted to leave the city but only on the condition that they sold the regime their land and property.[36] On January 13, 2016, Al-Mustaqbal reported that Hizbullah fighters in Bloudan had threatened residents of the besieged Al-Zabadani and Madayya nearby who had managed to escape that they would be forced back into Madayya unless they sold their land and houses to them for pennies on the dollar. According to the daily, some of these residents agreed to this extortion in return for food or a handful of coins, while others were brought back into Madayya.[37] It was around this time that the ongoing siege on Madayya – which violated a previous agreement between the regime and rebels in the city – made headlines, after residents and rebels raised an outcry because the residents were reduced to eating weeds, eggshells, and cats, with some dying of starvation, and medical supplies had run out.[38] Earlier in January, Orient News quoted Madayya activists as saying that Hizbullah was allowing residents to leave if they sold them their homes, land, and property.[39]

In September 2015, Iranian representatives, with UN sponsorship and assistance, arrived at a ceasefire with the rebel group Ahrar Al-Sham, which controlled Al-Zabadani. The agreement covered the city and several surrounding towns, among them Madayya, besieged by Assad and Hizbullah, and the Shi’ite towns of Al-Fua and Kefraya in northern Syria, besieged by the rebels, and included a population transfer agreement. Under the latter, armed rebels and interested residents from Al-Zabadani would be transferred to the northern city of Idlib, which is under rebel control and outside of La Syrie Utile, while 10,000 women, children, and over-50 men from Al-Fua and Kefraya would be transferred to Al-Zabadani – thus effecting a demographic shift.[40]

One of the most prominent examples of the regime’s removal of anti-regime residents following extended siege, starvation, and bombardment occurred recently as part of a rebel-regime agreement in Darayya, south of Damascus. After four years of siege, Darayya has become a symbol of this regime policy. In November 2012, the Syrian army and its allies besieged Darayya, and only allowed in humanitarian aid three and half years later, in early 2016. Almost four years of siege, starvation, and carpet bombing of the city, and, according to the rebels, regime threats to burn down the city with all its residents, brought the rebels to surrender. On August 25, 2016, the sides reached an agreement under which the armed rebels and residents would leave the city and hand over their medium and heavy weapons to the regime army as it entered.[41] Thus, on August 27, 1,650 rebel fighters and anti-regime residents abandoned Darayya for the rebel-controlled Idlib in northern Syria.[42] The Assad regime said that Darayya had been rendered uninhabitable, and promised that after it was rebuilt, its residents would be allowed to return.[43] However, on August 27, 2016, the Kurdish website Ara News reported that mere hours after the expulsion of its residents, dozens of Iraqi families had already moved in.[44]

According to the opposition, in Darayya the regime had escalated its attempts to subdue the rebels and the residents, threatening to exterminate the population. Syrian oppositionist Bassma Kodmani, a member of the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC), said that regime forces changed tactics after failing to starve the residents in the besieged areas, and that “the threats of ‘surrender or starve’ that we have heard for four years have now become ‘surrender or we will destroy you.'”[45]

The UN was criticized for its role in the Darayya agreement. UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura denied that he had had any connection to it, and said he had not even known about it,[46] but city councilman Fahdi Muhammad said, “The council updates de Mistura on events and developments in the city immediately after they happen, and his denial is nothing but an attempt to shirk his responsibility to protect the residents who were expelled by the Assad regime.” He added: “UN officials and a Red Cross delegation knew about the negotiations, and even oversaw the expulsion operation.”[47]

Among the opponents of the Darayya agreement were Arab League secretary-general Ahmed Abu Al-Gheit, who in a statement called it “a worrisome development that could pave the way for similar arrangements that bring about demographic changes in Syrian cities, especially since they are with UN sponsorship.” He added: “Expelling residents under duress is a violation of international law.”[48]

Reports in recent months indicate that there will be a repeat of this ceasefire-agreement scenario in the town of Muadamiyat Al-Sham, also southwest of Damascus. On September 1, 2016, the Syrian daily Al-Watan, which is close to the Assad regime, reported that an agreement is set to be signed between the regime and representatives of the town residents, under which all rebels  and anti-regime residents will leave the town in order to “settle their status vis-a-vis the regime.”[49] The previous day, on August 31, Orient News had reported that the regime is aiming for an agreement like Darayya’s in Muadamiyat Al-Sham, and that in talks between the sides, the regime had warned the townspeople that it would burn the whole town along with its residents if the rebels did not hand over their medium and heavy weapons and depart with the anti-regime residents.[50]

Apparently, the Russians, in addition to the UN, are also involved in these so-called “reconciliation agreements” under which population transfers are conducted following siege and starvation. Thus, for example, Russian officials praised the Darayya agreement. On September 1, 2016, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, said that “the successful experience” of removing the rebels from Darayya “will help reduce the level of violence.” She assessed that further agreements were forthcoming, stating that the regime had “reached an agreement similar to” the Darayya agreement in Muadamiyat Al-Sham, and called for the international community to support these agreements and for the signing of similar ones on all Syrian battlefronts.[51] Orient News reported that Russian officers had participated in the talks between Muadamiyat Al-Sham representatives and the regime.[52]

In this context, it should be mentioned that the regime and its allies have also taken measures to get rid of Palestinians residing in Palestinian refugee camps who have expressed support for the rebels. Ayman Abu Hisham, director of the general Palestinian refugee authority in the temporary Syrian government of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, said that the regime is assassinating or expelling Palestinians who do not support it, without distinguishing opponents from neutral parties. He accused it of starving residents of the Al-Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus, and of completely destroying other camps, such as Jaramana on the Damascus airport road and Handarat in northeastern Aleppo, to keep the residents, who had fled, from returning.[53]

On November 8, 2016, the website of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces reported that the regime had bombarded Khan Al-Sheikh, a Palestinian refugee camp in the western Ghouta, in order to drive out its residents, after they did not heed the regime’s demand to evacuate the camp.[54]

Shi’ization And Iran’s Takeover Of Property In And Around Damascus

There have also been many reports on significant Iranian activity in Damascus and its environs,including direct and indirect purchase of land and homes, as well as extensive Shi’ite religious outreach and proselytizing, aimed particularly at young people, and the establishment of Shi’ite religious, cultural, and educational centers.

30693A march of the Al-Imam Al-Mahdi scouts movement in Syria (orientnews.net, January 19, 2015)

The Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal cited knowledgeable sources as stating that the Syrian regime was transferring ownership of state buildings and land in Damascus to Iran, as part of a repayment of regime debts.[55] Some three months previously, the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which supports Hizbullah and the resistance axis, had reported that the Syrian regime had mortgaged state real estate to Iran in exchange for Iranian military and economic aid.[56]

A Damascus engineer identified as Suheil told Alsouria.net that he had sold his home to a Gulf businessman who later turned out to be an agent for Iranian firms, and that many other Syrians had done likewise. The website also reported that the number of Shi’ite residents in many Damascus neighborhoods was on the rise.[57]

The London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat also reported, citing numerous Syrian sources, that Iranian merchants and brokers had purchased property and land in various cities, with Iranian encouragement and support and with the cooperation of the Syrian regime. The daily quoted a report by the Electronic Group of the Syrian Rebellion as stating that Iran had established a network of real estate brokers and speculators for purchasing homes, hotels, and land from Syrian citizens who wish to leave Syria. According to the report, Iran had fraudulently transferred to itself ownership of various assets.[58]

Orient News reported that the Supreme Syrian-Iranian Council, headed by the Syrian Samer Al-As’ad, a representative of Iranian businessman and former IRGC general Rostam Qasemi, had appointed agents on the council’s behalf to pressure Damascus residents to sell their assets as part of an Iranian plan to create a demographically homogenous area stretching “from Darayya to the new building of the Iranian embassy in Damascus.”[59]

On June 22, 2015, Al-Quds Al-Arabi cited a resident of the Al-Mezzeh quarter in Damascus who said that Iranian Shi’ites fighting in Syria had been pressuring anti-regime owners of homes and land to sell them their assets by various means, including public humiliation, beatings, and even murder. According to the resident, the Kafr Soussa neighborhood is seeing much of this activity as well.[60]

On April 11, 2016, the Iranian news agency Fars reported that Iranian Majlis member Amir Khojasteh had presented a report to the Majlis after visiting Lebanon and Syria with a Majlis delegation. According to this report, Assad had agreed to grant residency visas to the 10,000 Iranian citizens already living in Syria, at no cost.[61]

In recent years, there has been increased Shi’ite and Iranian religious activity in both Damascus and in the town of Sayyidah Zaynab, south of Damascus. Sayyidah Zaynab is the site of the tomb of Zaynab, a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad, and it attracts many thousands of Shi’ite pilgrims annually. Entire areas of Damascus and other cities have turned Shi’ite, after families of foreign Shi’ite fighters immigrated to Syria and occupied homes abandoned because of the war. Further evidence of the rise of Shi’a in Syria was the unprecedented scale of the 2014 ‘Ashura ceremonies in Damascus, which were held even in areas of the capital that were not recognized as Shi’ite.[62]

30690The tomb of Sayyidah Zaynab south of Damascus (All4syria.info, January 29, 2016)

Orient News reported that days after the residents of Darayya left it, as part of the agreement with the Assad regime, Shi’ite militiamen entered it to pray and conduct Shi’ite ceremonies at a tomb that has in recent years become a Shi’ite pilgrimage site. It is claimed to be the burial site of Sayyidah Sakinah, the daughter of Hussein and granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad.[63]

30692Amjad Al-Bahadli, leader of the Iraqi Al-Imam Al-Hussein Brigade militia praying at the ruins of the tomb of Sayyidah Sakinah in Darayya (Facebook.com/500674723445460, August 31, 2016)

The Syrian oppositionist website Enabbaladi.net reported that the Iraqi Abu Al-Fadl Al-Abbas militia has launched an advertising campaign, aimed at Iraqi Shi’ites, for an eight-day trip to the Shi’ite holy sites in Syria at a cost of $400 per person. The trip includes the tomb of Sayyidah Sakinah.[64]

Opponents Of Syrian Regime: These Forced Demographic Changes Are War Crimes, Carried Out With UN Complicity – That Serve Iran

The Syrian opposition and its supporters in Lebanon have been extremely critical of the La Syrie Utile project and the measures undertaken, by the regime and by its allies, to implement it.[65] Some said that the regime’s methods were worse than Israeli actions against the Palestinians, while others compared them to the Nazi racial policy that eventually become the Final Solution.

The head of the interim government of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, Ahmad Tu’mah, said that the regime was changing the demographics in Homs Governorate by forcing Sunnis out and bringing in Iranians to replace them.[66] George Sabra, head of the Syrian National Council and a member of the National Coalition, claimed that the La Syrie Utile project was aimed at dividing the country into sectarian statelets that served Iran; he added that the Syrian regime no longer cares about the Syrian homeland or people, but only about self-protection and self-preservation.[67]

HNC member Muhammad ‘Aloush called the removal of residents of Darayya and Muadamiyat Al-Sham “a war crime carried out by the Syrian regime, and forced expulsion.”[68] Orient News wrote about the siege and starvation of Madaya that Hizbullah and its secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah were using methods “that even Israel does not use.”[69]

Syrian opposition officials also harshly criticized the UN, saying that it was participating in these arrangements that are changing the country’s demographics. On August 29, 2016, HNC general coordinator Riyad Hijab sent a letter to the UN secretary-general warning the UN not to sponsor measures by the regime and its allies aimed at shifting demographics. Hijab argued that Aleppo, Homs, Rif Dimashq, and other areas are subject to such forced demographic changes, and that the Assad regime and its allies are carrying out these changes with UN sponsorship in the guise of local ceasefires. He asked rhetorically: “Do you believe that this will eliminate terrorism? Will it eliminate extremism? Will it end the spilling of Syrian blood and the killing of women and children? Will it make the world a safer place? Will it preserve the unity and territorial integrity of Syrian soil?” He added that since the start of the political process vis-à-vis Syria, “the regime, Iran, and the militias [supporting them] have killed over half a million Syrians and expelled millions,” and that therefore this political process is “backing the regime and its allies in implementing this demographic change.”[70]

In an article in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas, National Coalition member Abdelilah Fahd alleged: “Officials in UN offices in Damascus have pressured the residents [of the Al-Waer neighborhood in Homs] in an attempt to reach a ceasefire that leads to a surrender [of the rebels]. The [UN] office in Damascus held talks with local residents to persuade them to accept a false ceasefire, which indicates it is a party to the expulsion plan… and that it has failed miserably to defend citizens according to international law.” Fahd also stated that the regime is implementing a policy of expulsion, killing, and destruction “in order to preserve the regime at all costs, in the belief that additional crimes will help it eliminate the rebelling Syrian people’s desire for freedom.” He called the methods being used by the regime “a scarlet letter in the history of the UN and international law.”[71]

The Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal  has published articles criticizing the demographic policies of the Syrian regime and its allies. In his July 7, 2015 column, ‘Ali Rabah wrote: “Hizbullah is attempting to change Syria’s demographics by expelling original residents to settle others in their place… This is the modus operandi of Hizbullah – which has for decades warned about a Zionist plan to divide the region – in an attempt to cancel the Sykes-Picot Accords.”[72] In another column, published August 12, 2015, Rabah wondered how Hizbullah leader Nasrallah could warn Shi’ites in Bahrain about demographic change that the Bahraini regime might implement against them while he was doing the same thing to Sunnis in Syria – and using the methods that Israel used against the Palestinians in 1948. He wrote: “The [Syrian] villages that Hizbullah wants to empty of their local residents could total a larger area than all of Palestine, or at least larger than all the [Israel-]occupied lands from 1948. Many haven’t noticed that the number of Syrian refugees in camps in Turkey and Jordan alone is three times greater than the number of Palestinians expelled by Israel.” Rabah added that Hizbullah was occupying Syria and establishing settlements and camps there.[73]

Lebanese poet and literary critic Paul Shaoul, who writes for Al-Mustaqbal, compared Hizbullah to Dracula, saying that it is sucking the blood of Syrians, and added that its policy in Syria was racist and sectarian and aimed at changing Syria’s demographics by eliminating Sunnis and expelling them from the country.[74] Mustafa ‘Aloush, a member of the Al-Mustaqbal faction’s Political Bureau and a columnist for the Al-Mustaqbal daily, compared the plan of Syria, Hizbullah, and Iran to the Nazi racial theory that developed into the Final Solution: “Their despair over the [failure of the] plan for the Rule of the Jurisprudent to control all Syria as its backyard has made the followers [of the Rule of the Jurisprudent] settle for the so-called La Syrie Utile. Today, it appears that Hizbullah’s entry into Syria is part of a ‘Final Solution’ supported by an Iranian fatwa aimed at ethnically cleansing areas bordering the central and northern Beqaa Valley [in Lebanon], possibly in preparation for the next stage, which will bring extensive changes to the political and demographic maps.”[75]

* E.B. Picali is a research fellow at MEMRI

 

Endnotes:

 

[1] Al-Watan (Syria), July 26, 2015.

[2] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1131, Shi’ization Of Syria: In Damascus, Unprecedentedly Extensive Observance Of The ‘Ashura, November 13, 2014.

[3] Al-Watan (Syria), July 26, 2016.

[4] Orient-news.net, January 6, 2016.

[5] Etilaf.org, September 21, 2016.

[6] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 27-29, 2013. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 980, Lebanon Openly Enters Fighting In Syria, June 13, 2013.

[7] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 28, 2016.

[8] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), February 4, 2016.

[9] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 1226, Hizbullah Faces Criticism In Lebanon For Besieging Madaya: Its Starvation Of Syrians Recalls Past Crimes Of Mass Extermination In History, February 9, 2016.

[10] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 1221, Local Ceasefire Agreements In Syria: Capitulation To Regime’s Siege-And-Starvation Strategy Under UN Sponsorship, January 26, 2016.

[11] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), August 12, 2015.

[12] Al-Safir (Lebanon), November 4, 2015.

[13] Masralarabia.com, March 15, 2015.

[14] Orient-news.net, January 19, 2015.

[15] Alsouria.net, August 21, 2015.

[16] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), June 22, 2015.

[17] Alarabiya.net, August 27, 2015.

[18] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 20, 2016.

[19] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 21, 2016.

[20] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London) June 11, 2016.

[21] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), August 12, 2015.

[22] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), July 30, 2015. Yasser Haidar, a member of the coordinating body in Al-Qusayr, told the Saudi daily ‘Okaz that he and other residents were expelled from the town, and that under the auspices of Hizbullah, it has become a center for bandits and gangs of smugglers and kidnappers. ‘Okaz (Saudi Arabia), February 7, 2015. According to the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal, Hizbullah sent Shi’ite Lebanese criminals wanted in Lebanon to Syria, and particularly to the Al-Qusayr and Al-Qalamoun areas, chief among them the Shi’ite Lebanese fugitive Noah Zaiter, who posted images on his Facebook page of himself along with Hizbullah officers fighting in those areas in Syria. Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), September 15, 2015.

[23] Alsouria.net, August 21, 2015.

[24] Alsouria.net, August 21, 2015.

[25] Janoubia.com, December 11, 2015.

[26] Al-Ba’th (Syria), May 21, 2014.

[27] Masralarabia.com, March 15, 2015.

[28] All4syria.info, January 29, 2016.

[29] Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), October 20, 2015.

[30] Enabbaladi.net, September 11, 2016.

[31] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 6, 2016.

[32] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 1221, Local Ceasefire Agreements In Syria: Capitulation To Regime’s Siege-And-Starvation Strategy Under UN Sponsorship, January 26, 2016; and Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 1069, Syria Regime’s Tactic Against Opponents: ‘Surrender Or Starve’, February 13, 2014.

[33] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 3, 2015.

[34] Alarabiya.net, December 5, 2015.

[35] All4syria.info, July 17, 2016.

[36] Orient-news.net, January 6, 2016.

[37] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), January 13, 2016.

[38] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 1221, Local Ceasefire Agreements In Syria: Capitulation To Regime’s Siege-And-Starvation Strategy Under UN Sponsorship, January 26, 2016.

[39] Orient-news.net, January 6, 2016.

[40] Orient-news.net, September 19, 2015.

[41] Sana.sy, August 25, 2016.

[42] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), August 27, 2016; Sana.sy, August 27, 2016.

[43] Dp-news.com, August 29, 2016.

[44] Aranews.net, August 27, 2016.

[45] Aksalser.com, September 1, 2016.

[46] Orient-news.net, August 27, 2016.

[47] Etilaf.org, August 27, 2016.

[48] Alarabiya.net, August 28, 2016.

[49] Al-Watan (Syria), September 1, 2016.

[50] Orient-News.net, August 31, 2016.

[51] Aksalser.com, September 1, 2016.

[52] Orient-news.net, August 31, 2016.

[53] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 2, 2014.

[54] Etilaf.org, November 8, 2016.

[55] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), August 12, 2015.

[56] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), April 29, 2015.

[57] Alsouria.net, August 21, 2015.

[58] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 26, 2016.

[59] Orient-news.net, November 6, 2016.

[60] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), June 22, 2015.

[61] Fars (Iran), April 11, 2016.

[62] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1131, Shi’ization Of Syria: In Damascus, Unprecedentedly Extensive Observance Of The ‘Ashura, November 13, 2014.

[63] Orient-news.net, September 1, 2016.

[64] Enabbaladi.net, September 17, 2016.

[65] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 1226, Hizbullah Faces Criticism In Lebanon For Besieging Madaya: Its Starvation Of Syrians Recalls Past Crimes Of Mass Extermination In History, February 9, 2016.

[66] Dp-news.com, January 23, 2016.

[67] Aljazeera.net, September 29, 2015.

[68] Alarabiya.net, September 1, 2016.

[69] Orient-news.net, January 6, 2016.

[70] Aksalser.com, August 29, 2016.

[71] Al-Qabas (Kuwait), August 31, 2016.

[72] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), July 7, 2015.

[73] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), August 12, 2015.

[74] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), August 12, 2016.

[75] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), January 13, 2016.

Al-Hariri’s Choice Of Hizbullah Ally Aoun For Lebanese Presidency Is Another March 14 Forces Concession To Pro-Iran Axis

October 28, 2016

Al-Hariri’s Choice Of Hizbullah Ally Aoun For Lebanese Presidency Is Another March 14 Forces Concession To Pro-Iran Axis, MEMRI, E.B. Picali and Y. Yehoshua, October 28, 2016

Introduction

On October 31, 2016, the Lebanese parliament will convene and is expected to vote in Free Patriotic Movement leader and Hizbullah ally Michel Aoun as president of Lebanon; he is Hizbullah’s sole candidate. The move follows a deal struck between Aoun and former Lebanese prime minister Sa’d Al-Hariri, leader of the Sunni Al-Mustaqbal stream, under which Aoun, if elected, will assign Al-Hariri the task of forming the next government.

This move by Al-Hariri has significant implications for the intra-Lebanese political arena and for the regional power balance. Therefore it has encountered criticism both within and outside Lebanon. This move represents a surrender by the March 14 Forces, headed by Al-Mustaqbal, to Hizbullah’s will, and reinforces the position of Hizbullah’s patron Iran at the expense of Saudi Arabia.

The following report reviews Al-Hariri’s decision, the reactions it has encountered, and what it means for Lebanon and the region.

Hizbullah Ally Aoun Expected To Be Chosen President

On October 31, 2016, the Lebanese parliament will hold its 46th presidential selection session since Michel Suleiman’s term ended two-and-a-half years ago.  That session is expected to choose Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, who is an ally of Hizbullah, as president. Aoun’s selection will end a two-and-a-half-year presidential vacuum that resulted from disagreement over Suleiman’s successor from among the country’s opposing streams – primarily Al-Mustaqbal, led by Sa’d Al-Hariri, and Hizbullah, which together with Aoun stymied the formation of the quorum that is necessary to elect a president. The breakthrough in the talks over the selection of a president came when Al-Hariri and Aoun reached an agreement under which Al-Hariri would support Aoun’s presidential candidacy and in return Aoun would task Al-Hariri with forming the new government, which would be a national unity government as stipulated in the agreement.[1] This constitutes an Al-Hariri surrender to Hizbullah, which sought an Aoun presidency. It should be mentioned that Al-Hariri’s support for an overt Hizbullah ally is not unprecedented; a year ago, Al-Hariri announced his support for another ally of Hizbullah, and of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, Suleiman Frangieh, for the post of Lebanese president.[2]

Al-Hariri announced his support for Aoun in an October 20, 2016 speech, saying that by supporting him he was aiming to save Lebanon from dangerous leadership and economic crises which could, in turn, lead to a new civil war.[3]

Two days later, on October 22, Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah announced that his party’s MPs, who had been boycotting presidential selection sessions, as had MPs from other parties including Aoun’s own Change and Reform bloc, would be attending the October 31 session and would be choosing Aoun.  Nasrallah added that Hizbullah had no objections to Al-Hariri’s serving as prime minister in the new government.

These statements by Al-Hariri and Nasrallah pave Aoun’s path to the presidential palace, even though obstacles and uncertainty remain, both in Lebanon and in the region, in this matter.

Various Lebanese Elements Oppose Aoun’s Appointment As President

The opposition to Aoun’s appointment comes mainly from Lebanese parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, and from Suleiman Frangieh, who is running against Aoun in the presidential race. Both Berri and Frangieh are March 8 Forces members and open Hizbullah allies. Berri even announced that he would not be part of the government that would be established under the Al-Hariri-Aoun deal, and questioned the deal’s future, saying that it had been arrived at by two sides only, without taking into account the country’s main political elements, himself among them. Druze leader and centrist bloc member Walid Jumblatt, who is another major Lebanese political figure, has not yet expressed a position on this matter, but it is thought that he will back Aoun.

On the other side as well, some in Al-Hariri’s Al-Mustaqbal party and in the March 14 Forces in general   oppose this deal. Immediately after Al-Hariri’s October 20 announcement of support for Aoun, another former prime minister, Fouad Al-Siniora, the head of the Al-Mustaqbal party, (a component of Al-Hariri’s broader Al-Mustaqbal stream) announced that he would not join Al-Hariri in backing Aoun for president. Al-Siniora was joined by other party members, including parliamentary vice president Farid Makari, MPs Ahmad Fatfat and Ammar Houri, Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb of the March 14 Forces, and March 14 Forces secretary-general Fares Souaid.

Along with the opposition to an Aoun presidency within the Al-Mustaqbal party, other Sunni public figures also objected to the deal, among them Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, former director-general of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces and a former Al-Hariri supporter. Last year, Rifi harshly attacked Al-Hariri for his support for Hizbullah and Syrian regime ally Suleiman Frangieh. On October 22, 2016, two days after Al-Hariri’s announcement of his support for Aoun as president, Rifi organized an anti-Aoun protest in Tripoli called “Proud Tripoli Rejects the Candidate of Iranian Patronage.” The next day, October 23, a convoy of vehicles from Akkar in the north of the country made its way to Rifi’s home in Tripoli bearing posters of him and expressing support for his position on this matter. It should be mentioned that in the past year, Rifi has gradually chipped away at overall Lebanese Sunni support for Al-Hariri, as evidenced by his party’s landslide victory over Al-Hariri’s party in the mayoral elections in Tripoli, the city with the largest Sunni concentration in the country.

Many in the Al-Mustaqbal party, the March 14 Forces, and the Sunni public who oppose the Al-Hariri-Aoun deal see Al-Hariri’s support for Aoun as yet another concession to Hizbullah and the pro-Iran axis that backs it, and to Hizbullah as an armed state within a state.[4] They accuse Al-Hariri, inter alia, of seeking to become prime minister by selling out Sunni interests and the political legacy of his father Rafiq Al-Hariri, whose 2005 assassination, when Syria was the real power in Lebanon, is thought to have been carried out by five senior Hizbullah officials.

Addressing critics of his deal, Al-Hariri explained his support for Aoun as well as his previous support for Frangieh: “I am willing to take the risks a thousand times over, just as I am willing to risk myself, my people, and my political future, to defend Lebanon and its people.”[5]

Al-Hariri’s Choice Of Aoun Is A Political Victory For Hizbullah

Al-Hariri’s move to support the Hizbullah candidate and ally Aoun has major implication for the internal Lebanese political arena. It constitutes another successful attempt by Hizbullah to impose its wishes there and a further weakening of the country’s main Sunni force, the Al-Mustaqbal party. This triumph for Hizbullah comes at a time when it is mostly preoccupied outside of Lebanon’s borders, primarily with fighting alongside the Assad regime in Syria, as well as elsewhere in the Arab world as a proxy of Iran. The organization has fortified its position within Lebanon by virtue of its network of political alliances in the country, as well as by virtue of the quantity of weapons in its possession.

Ibrahim Al-Amin, head of the board of directors of the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar and a known Hizbullah supporter, argued that the March 14 Forces, including the Al-Mustaqbal stream, show “the symptoms of card-game addicts,” who delude themselves that they can win and are “unwilling to give up” even when it is clear that it is Hizbullah who is actually directing events on the ground.[6]

At the same time, Hizbullah’s success in pushing its own candidate through is also a result of the political weakness of its rivals, particularly the Hariri-led Al-Mustaqbal stream, who wants the premiership at nearly any cost in order to strengthen his own political status in the country and perhaps his economic status as well.

An Aoun presidency does not mean that the issues contributing to the vast schism between the sides in Lebanon will be resolved, among them the disarming of Hizbullah as demanded by the March 14 Forces – Aoun opposes the organization’s disarmament.[7] As president, Hizbullah ally Aoun would be in charge of a number of security and military portfolios, aggravating the tension between the sides and jeopardizing the army’s independence .

Additionally, the Al-Hariri-Aoun deal does not guarantee that Al-Hariri will actually succeed in forming a government, because of the opposition he faces both inside and outside Lebanon. The deal with Aoun could also harm Al-Hariri’s status among his traditional Sunni support base, thus weakening him in the upcoming spring 2017 parliamentary elections.

An Aoun Presidency: Ramifications For The Regional Power Balance – Down With Saudi Arabia, Up With Iran

Since Lebanon’s future depends on the regional political balance, with Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia the patrons of various local Lebanese political players, Al-Hariri’s move has regional ramifications. His surrender to Hizbullah’s wishes reflects the strengthening of Iran, which has exploited the Syrian civil war to deepen its penetration of the region and of Lebanon in particular. Electing the Hizbullah presidential candidate Aoun will definitely serve future pro-Iran interests in Lebanon at the expense of Sunni interests in Lebanon, and also at the expense of Saudi Arabia, which views itself as the protector of these interests.

Saudi Arabia has previously backed Al-Hariri’s past substantial political moves even if these moves haven’t always served Saudi political interests in Lebanon or elsewhere. It is still unclear whether his deal with Aoun has Saudi support, and the Lebanese press has published conflicting reports on the matter. As yet, there has been no official Saudi comment on this, but recent articles in the Saudi press indicate a lack of support for Al-Hariri’s deal with Aoun. However, following a lengthy Saudi silence, Saudi Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer Sabhan, who visited Beirut on October 27 said that his country would not intervene in the selection of Lebanon’s president and would support the president chosen by the Lebanese.[8]

There were also reports in the Lebanese press noting that Al-Hariri’s political status in Lebanon is declining, and that the Saudis no longer consider him the sole representative of the Sunnis in Lebanon, but only one such representative.

It should be noted that in previous years, Saudi Arabia, as the leader of the Sunni world, played a key role in the selection of Lebanese presidents, as did Syria, which together with Hizbullah’s patron Iran represented the resistance axis. Al-Hariri’s choosing Aoun for president without full Saudi backing reflects a decline in Saudi influence in Lebanon, and in Saudi Arabia’s regional status in general. In this context, a report in the Lebanese daily Al-Safir, a known supporter of the resistance axis, claims that Egypt was involved in promoting Aoun’s prospects for the presidency.[9] A possible inference from this report is that Egypt is attempting to step into Saudi Arabia’s shoes in Lebanon in an attempt to restore its status in the Arab world, and particularly in the Sunni world.

Articles in the daily Al-Akhbar, known for its pro-Hizbullah line, addressed the regional implications of Al-Hariri’s gambit and gloated that the move reflected Saudi Arabian weakness. Al-Akhbar columnist Ghassan Saoud wrote that an Aoun presidency would be a manifestation of “Hizbullah’s ability to break the international will, and the Saudi will.”[10]

However, Ibrahim Al-Amin wrote in an Al-Akbar editorial that wars in the Arab region created a reality that was forcing the March 14 Forces to see the choice of Lebanese president differently, and that they needed to realize that the Saudis can no longer help them. As he usually does, he concluded his piece with implied threats, stating: “Anyone who does not want anarchy in Lebanon has no alternative but to choose Aoun for president.”[11]

 

*E. B. Picali is a research fellow at MEMRI; Y. Yehoshua is Vice President for Research And Director of MEMRI Israel

 

Endntoes:

[1] One of the main political players pushing for an Aoun presidency is Samir Geagea, chairman of the Lebanese Forces. In January 2016, after a long period of talks, Geagea and Aoun, formerly bitter Christian political rivals, agreed that Geagea would support Aoun’s presidential bid. One of the main reasons behind Geagea’s decision to do so was Al-Hariri’s previous support for the presidential candidacy of Suleiman Frangieh – a fierce rival of Geagea who had been accused of killing several members of the Frangieh family during the country’s civil war.

[2] Similarly, in 2008, during another presidential interregnum, the March 14 Forces and Al-Hariri were forced to make concessions to Hizbullah, which was included in the newly formed Fouad Siniora government; this took place at the Doha conference. The most important concession won by the Hizbullah-led March 8 Forces, as stipulated in the government guidelines, was the legitimation of the Resistance (which allowed Hizbullah to operate as an independent armed force within Lebanon). Hizbullah also received enough cabinet seats to veto any government decision, and Hizbullah subsequently used this veto power against Al-Hariri’s government in 2011. Hizbullah obtained these concessions following the leadership vacuum, the lengthy Hizbullah siege on central Beirut, and the violent events of May 7, 2008.

[3] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), October 21, 2016.

[4] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 1092, Al-Mustaqbal Losing Ground As Representative Of Lebanese Sunnis, May 19, 2014.

[5] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), October 21, 2016.

[6] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), October 24, 2016.

[7] In an interview with Al-Akhbar, Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who is Aoun’s son-in-law and heads the Change and Reform bloc founded by Aoun, said that Free Patriotic Movement, to which the Change and Reform bloc belongs, supports Hizbullah’s retention of its weapons. Al-Akhbar(Lebanon), October 22, 2016.

[8] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), October 28, 2016.

[9] Al-Safir (Lebanon), October 25, 2016.

[10] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), October 27, 2016.

[11] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), October 24, 2016.