Gaza War’s Impact On The Middle East Strategic Landscape (Lucas Winter)(June 2024)

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Key Takeaways:

  • Three de facto strategic coalitions dominate the contemporary Middle East geopolitical landscape: the Iranian-led “Axis of Resistance,” the Turkish-led “Political Islam Coalition,”
    and the U.S.-led “Arab Normalization” Coalition, anchored by Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Hamas fits uneasily between the Axis of Resistance and Political Islam Coalitions, receiving
    tepid support from both but fully trusted by neither. The Arab Normalization Coalition does not support Hamas.
  • Members of the three de facto strategic coalitions responded differently to Hamas’ 7 October attacks and their aftermath: “Axis of Resistance” members contributed calculated, largely symbolic military support; the Political Islam Coalition supported Hamas in media and diplomacy; and the Arab Normalization Coalition sought to maintain a neutral distance from the war in Gaza.
  • Prior to 7 October, the Middle East was in the midst of a new era of regional détente, in which members of the different de facto strategic coalitions were re-engaging and de-escalating their conflicts. The War in Gaza shifted the regional strategic calculus in ways that are not yet clear. Three scenarios are presented for how these changes may occur, and how China and Russia may seek to benefit from them. The first scenario involves increased Turkish-Iranian policy convergence, the second a deepening of Turkish-Egyptian relations, and the third a “grand bargain” that includes Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey. Russia is more likely to benefit from the first two scenarios, while China is likely to benefit most from the third.

Hamas and Houthis Target Youth as New “Islamic Resistance” Movement Emerges

Hamas supporters in Gaza, including families and children, attending the 25th anniversary of the movement’s founding, December 2012.


Houthi vehicles carrying slogans of supporting Gaza roam the villages with forms to register children and youth into these training courses.”


Hamas, and the Houthis in Yemen, both of whom have seen their popularity grow since 7 October, are capitalizing on conflict in Gaza to recruit new generations of young men into their culture of “Islamic Resistance.”[i] According to the first accompanying excerpt from an op-ed published recently in the Qatari-aligned al-Araby al-Jadeed, Hamas’s prior youth training efforts have been critical to its ability to withstand the Israeli campaign. The author mentions the “Futawwa” (youth) training program, which allowed Hamas to spread its “resistance” ideology across Gaza throughout the 2010s.[ii] The second and third accompanying excerpts, from the prominent Saudi dailies al-Sharq al-Awsat and al-Watan, respectively, illustrate how both Hamas and the Houthis have used their growing popularity since 7 October to launch recruitment campaigns, especially targeting the youth. Youth indoctrination is critical for both groups, and both have put substantial efforts into it over the past decade.[iii] The Houthi Movement and Hamas in Gaza share much in common. They are both mobilized movements with Islamic ideological underpinnings that act as de facto governments in their respective regions despite not formally being recognized as such by the international community. The key difference between them is doctrinal—the former are adherents of the Zaydi branch of Shia Islam while the latter is a Sunni, Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated movement. For both groups, though, “the culture of resistance” is a critical component that arguably supersedes sectarian differences. Perhaps to a greater degree than previously, a focus on sectarian differences seems secondary and increasingly irrelevant in the current context. Instead, Hamas and the Houthis—alongside Shia-majority Lebanese Hezbollah and the “Islamic Resistance of Iraq”—may coalesce into a transnational, cross-sectarian “Islamic Resistance” movement that should be thought of as distinct from the 2010s, Iran-led “Axis of Resistance.”[iv] Both on the Sunni and the Shia side, the new generation of fighters coming of age in the shadow of conflict in Gaza will presumably be less interested in sectarian differences or other intra-Islam disputes than in the fight against Israel.


Sources:

“How and why has Gaza held out?” al-Araby al-Jadeed (Qatari-aligned daily) https://www.alaraby.co.uk/opinion/كيف-صمدت-غزّة-ولماذا

What is the secret of this resilience? … After the attempted coup against the Hamas government and the separation of Gaza from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip fell under a tight siege, and the local “Gaza Authority” found itself under a unique state of “independence.” It was able to make whatever decisions it wanted regarding its society, especially in the fields of education and curriculum making… Specifically, the Hamas Authority introduced the “Futawwa” program into the curricula of its schools, aiming to train students specifically in weapons use and field skills.


“Hamas seeks to exploit the Gaza war in the Lebanese camps,” al-Sharq al-Awsat (prominent Saudi daily), 4 December 2023. https://aawsat.com/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A8%D9%8A/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%B4%D8%B1%D9%82-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A8%D9%8A/4708376-%C2%AB%D8%AD%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B3%C2%BB-%D8%AA%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%88%D9%84-%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%AB%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%AD%D8%B1%D8%A8-%D8%BA%D8%B2%D8%A9-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D9%85%D8%AE%D9%8A%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%84%D8%A8%D9%86%D8%A7%D9%86

On Monday, the Lebanese branch of the Hamas movement announced the establishment of the “Vanguards of the Al-Aqsa Flood.” This is an organization with military dimensions, as the statement suggested…

In a statement, the movement called on “young and heroic men” to join the “vanguard of the resistance.” The movement’s sources explained that “this project is linked to Lebanon and does not aim exclusively to gather more fighters, but rather to include more individuals in Hamas who are active in more than one sector.” A statement issued by the movement linked the establishment of these vanguards to “affirming the role of the Palestinian people, wherever they are, in resisting the occupation by all available and legitimate means,” and to “complementing what Operation Al-Aqsa Flood achieved, and benefiting from scientific and artistic energies and capabilities.”


“Houthis recruit children through seminars on war in Gaza,” al-Watan (prominent Saudi daily), 18 November 2023. https://www.alwatan.com.sa/article/1137388

A Yemeni source in Sanaa said that the most rejoicing over what is happening in Gaza is among the Houthi militias, who rose up directly to restore their dilapidated ranks and support their disintegrating fronts… The source stated that Houthi vehicles carrying slogans of supporting Gaza roam the villages with forms to register children and youth into these training courses, a method that does not differ from previous methods of recruitment. However, the Houthis have developed new tricks to entice children and youth to enroll in these malicious courses. This includes sending young graduates to the streets to talk about their participation in previous courses, graduating them without any assignments, and giving them monthly salarie


Notes:

[i] Several opinion polls confirm these groups’ rising popularity, including:

“Wide public support for Hamas’ offensive on October the 7th, but the vast majority denies that Hamas has committed atrocities against Israeli civilians,” Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 13 December 2023. https://www.pcpsr.org/en/node/963

“How the Israel-Hamas War in Gaza Is Changing Arab Views,” Arab Barometer, 14 December 2023. https://www.arabbarometer.org/media-news/how-the-israel-hamas-war-in-gaza-is-changing-arab-views/

“New Poll Sheds Light on Saudi Views of Israel-Hamas War,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 21 December 2023. https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/new-poll-sheds-light-saudi-views-israel-hamas-war;  “Arab Public Opinion about the Israeli War on Gaza,” Doha Institute, 10 January 2024. https://www.dohainstitute.org/en/Lists/ACRPS-PDFDocumentLibrary/arab-opinion-war-on-gaza-press-release-en.pdf

[ii] Much has been written on the program over the past decade. See for instance: “Gaza teens graduate from Hamas military school,” Ynet News, 24 January 2013. https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4336807,00.html

and “Training Fighters of Future Across Gaza,” New York Times, 14 January 2014. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/15/world/middleeast/training-fighters-of-future-across-gaza.html

[iii] For more on Hamas youth recruitment, see: “The Road to October 7: Hamas’ Long Game, Clarified,” CTC Sentinel, October/November 2023. https://ctc.westpoint.edu/the-road-to-october-7-hamas-long-game-clarified/; For the Houthis, see: “Yemen: Houthis Recruit More Child Soldiers Since October 7,” Human Rights Watch, 13 February 2024. https://www.hrw.org/news/2024/02/13/yemen-houthis-recruit-more-child-soldiers-october-7

[iv] The idea of an “Islamic Resistance” axis is not new. However, it bears distinguishing the emergent post-7 October Islamic Resistance from the Iran-led “Axis of Resistance.” The latter coalesced in the early 2010s, during the fight against ISIS and in support of the Syrian regime, and at a time when Hamas was estranged from Iran and its proxies. As such, the Axis of Resistance emerged as a primarily Shia organization focused on countering Sunni extremism in Syria and Iraq (or, for the Houthis, fighting against Saudi Arabia and its Yemeni allies). Israel remained part of the discourse, but it was not the axis’s primary focus.


Image Information:

Image: Hamas supporters in Gaza, including families and children, attending the 25th anniversary of the movement’s founding, December 2012.
Source: https://media.farsnews.ir/Uploaded/Files/Images/1391/09/18/13910918213433966_PhotoL.jpg
Attribution: CCA-SA 4.0 Intl.

Inaction on Gaza Underscores “Arab Street’s” Presumed Powerlessness

Jordan map showing major cities as well as parts of surrounding countries.


Gaza not only exposed the failure of the Arab and Islamic regimes in its historical test, but also exposed the silent failure of their peoples, revealed their deteriorating reality, and their weak and shameful positions, and carried the corpse of Arabism to its final resting place.”


“The Arab Street”—a broad term referring to Arab civil society sentiment—is strongly and uniformly opposed to Israeli actions in Gaza, according to several reputable opinion polls.[i] Yet, there has been little to no domestic popular pressure on Arab governments to take meaningful steps to curtail the Israeli campaign.[ii] The first two accompanying excerpts, from the pro-Palestinian daily al-Quds al-Arabi and the pro-Palestinian news website al-Rai al-Yaum, illustrate a perspective that considers the Palestine issue as primarily an Arab—rather than Muslim or nationalist—affair. By this view, the lack of Arab support for Palestine is a simultaneous indictment of Arab governments and the Arab public, both of which are seen as weak and powerless. This state of affairs, one of the authors remarks, has had the effect of “[carrying] the corpse of Arabism to its final resting place.” The assumed powerlessness of Arab citizens and their governments notwithstanding, the “Arab Street” is nevertheless seething. Scenes from Gaza continue flooding traditional and social media, broadcasting what the third accompanying excerpt, also from al-Quds al-Arabi, describes as “a live, terrible, and heartbreaking picture.” Arab governments’ denunciations and symbolic actions against Israel have not turned the Arab public’s focus away from Gaza, which remains a topic of daily discussion. Among Arab governments, Jordan is arguably the most vulnerable to popular pressure due to its large Palestinian population and shared border with the West Bank. The fourth accompanying article, from the Saudi daily al-Sharq al-Awsat, explains in detail the balancing act played by the Jordanian government, which is seeking to placate popular pressure to push back against Israel without enflaming the situation or otherwise “[raising] the ambitions of the angry street.” There is no indication that Gaza will fade from the center of Arab public discourse anytime soon. The relative quiescence of Arab publics and governments vis-à-vis the conflict, therefore, should not obscure the continued pressures that are building on both to take meaningful action as the conflict in Gaza drags on.


Sources:

العدوان على غزة وغياب الصوت العربي الرسمي “The aggression against Gaza and the absence of an official Arab voice,” al-Quds (pro-Palestinian daily), 26 January 2024. https://www.alquds.co.uk/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%AF%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%BA%D8%B2%D8%A9-%D9%88%D8%BA%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%A8-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D9%88%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A8%D9%8A-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1

There is no significant influence of Arab activity on the aggression and other things taking place in Gaza…

The Arab Street does not know how this issue is being discussed between Arab leaders and officials, with their counterparts in the world or among themselves, other than what their media circulates about rejection, denunciation, and repudiations, or descriptions of international impotence without holding themselves accountable for this impotence …

Officially, all Arabs reject the aggression that Gaza is being subjected to, and everyone rejects the occupation’s plans, from destruction to displacement to killing. However, the Palestinians have not witnessed any Arab actions to prevent these plans from occurring…


غزة تشيع الشارع العربي إلى مثواه الأخير “Gaza brings the Arab street to its final resting place,” Rai al-Youm (Pro-Palestinian news website), 8 December 2023. https://www.raialyoum.com/%D8%BA%D8%B2%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%B9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B4%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%B9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A8%D9%8A-%D8%A5%D9%84%D9%89-%D9%85%D8%AB%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%87-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D8%AE%D9%8A/

Gaza not only exposed the failure of the Arab and Islamic regimes in its historical test, but also exposed the silent failure of their peoples, revealed their deteriorating reality, and their weak and shameful positions, and carried the corpse of Arabism to its final resting place.


غزة تمثل مأزقا للنظام العربي وسط تململ الشارع الغاضب واحتمالات عودة الإسلاميين “Gaza represents a dilemma for the Arab regime amid the angry street restlessness and the possibilities of the return of the Islamists,” al-Quds (pro-Palestinian daily), 2 December 2023. https://www.alquds.co.uk/%D8%BA%D8%B2%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D9%85%D8%AB%D9%84-%D9%85%D8%A3%D8%B2%D9%82%D8%A7-%D9%84%D9%84%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A8%D9%8A-%D9%88%D8%B3%D8%B7-%D8%AA%D9%85%D9%84%D9%85%D9%84/

But the greatest repercussions of the Gaza war are brewing in Arab countries whose screens have not stopped broadcasting a live, terrible and heartbreaking picture of what is happening in the Gaza Strip. The plight of the Palestinians has become part of dialogues on social media platforms and meetings over dinner and in the workplace. This all despite the efforts made by Arab countries to denounce what Israel is doing in Gaza and show political, diplomatic and humanitarian support for the Palestinians in the form of relief convoys, field hospitals, and tolerance for protests. However, the Arab street is seething with anger at the situation, and sometimes uses demonstrations of solidarity with the Palestinians, as it has in the past, to express grievances against the ruling regimes.


الغضب الشعبي والرسمي يكشف مخاوف الأردنيين “Popular and official anger reveal Jordanian fears,” al-Sharq al-Awsat (Saudi daily), 1 December 2023. https://aawsat.com/%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D9%85%D9%82/%D8%AD%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D8%B3%D8%A8%D9%88%D8%B9/4702941-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%BA%D8%B6%D8%A8-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B4%D8%B9%D8%A8%D9%8A-%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D8%B3%D9%85%D9%8A-%D9%8A%D9%83%D8%B4%D9%81-%D9%85%D8%AE%D8%A7%D9%88%D9%81-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D8%B1%D8%AF%D9%86%D9%8A%D9%8A%D9%86

The inevitability of the intensification of the war on Gaza, and the possibilities of expanding the scope of the current conflict in the Palestinian territories to the West Bank, are real Jordanian fears that are revealed with daily developments…

Indeed, analysts do not disagree that there is a sharp division among the official elites in their assessment of the situation. There are fears that the statements of Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi will raise the ambitions of the angry street, especially after he described the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty law as “a document on a shelf with dust” …

On the other hand, traditional elites called for “early recognition of an imminent danger.” The statements of former representatives and ministers Mamdouh Al-Abadi and Samir Al-Habashna and academic Sabri Rabihat received wide popular acceptance when they called on various occasions to “arm the Jordanian people” and prepare public opinion “for a possible military confrontation with Israel, which does not adhere to the values of the peace treaty with Jordan, and is even trying to tamper with it” …

An unknown future awaits Amman on its western border with the occupying state…


Notes:

[i] These polls also generally express strong disapproval of U.S. support for Israel and general approval of the actions of Iran-backed “Resistance Axis” members in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen. The polls include:

“Wide public support for Hamas’ offensive on October the 7th, but the vast majority denies that Hamas has committed atrocities against Israeli civilians,” Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 13 December 2023. https://www.pcpsr.org/en/node/963

“How the Israel-Hamas War in Gaza Is Changing Arab Views,” Arab Barometer, 14 December 2023. https://www.arabbarometer.org/media-news/how-the-israel-hamas-war-in-gaza-is-changing-arab-views/ 

“New Poll Sheds Light on Saudi Views of Israel-Hamas War,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 21 December 2023. https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/new-poll-sheds-light-saudi-views-israel-hamas-war

“Arab Public Opinion about the Israeli War on Gaza,” Doha Institute, 10 January 2024. https://www.dohainstitute.org/en/Lists/ACRPS-PDFDocumentLibrary/arab-opinion-war-on-gaza-press-release-en.pdf

[ii] Some protests have occurred in Arabic-speaking countries, but none has been significant or created any meaningful pressures on governments. For Palestinian support in North Africa see: Jason Warner, “North African Wave of Support for Palestinians at Onset of Israel-Hamas War,” OE Watch, 01-2024.  https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2024/north-african-wave-of-support-for-palestinians-at-onset-of-israel-hamas-war/


Image Information:

Image: Jordan map showing major cities as well as parts of surrounding countries.
Source: https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/jordan/map
Attribution: Public Domain


Iraqi Shia Militia Attacks Create Atmosphere of Uncertainty

Photo of Al-Nujaba Movement forces (from PMF) in the Makhul Mountains of Salah al-Din province, one kilometer from the ISIL Front, 6 July 2016.


“Anxiety is rising in Iraq in general… [prompting] the faction leaders to change their tactics and movements and attempt to take stricter security measures to avoid being targeted by America.…”


Strikes and counterstrikes involving U.S. forces and so-called Iraqi “Islamic Resistance” factions of Shia militias may lead militant leaders to seek cover with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in ways that would likely strain U.S.-ISF relations. The first accompanying report, from the Qatari-aligned al-Araby al-Jadeed, claims that Islamic Resistance factions are seeking to safeguard their weapons from U.S. strikes by transferring them to ISF bases under Iraqi Defense Ministry control. The Islamic Resistance is a branding name used by various Iran-led militant Shia Iraqi groups, most prominently Kataib Hezbollah (KH) and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba (HAN).[i] These militias exert substantial influence in Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), which are an appendage of the ISF akin to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.[ii] As PMF units, the Islamic Resistance factions are part of the Iraqi state, but their interests and actions are rarely aligned or coordinated with those of the State apparatus writ large. Since the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel, the Islamic Resistance has conducted regular attacks on U.S. positions in Syria and Iraq. The attacks escalated in late January 2024, when an unmanned aerial vehicle attributed to KH killed three U.S. Army soldiers stationed in Jordan. In response, U.S. forces killed Abu Baqir al-Saadi, a KH official involved in planning the attacks. The strike followed an earlier one targeting a HAN leader. Both strikes occurred in Baghdad, prompting Iraqi government officials to publicly denounce them as violations of national sovereignty. Islamic Resistance and other Iraqi Shia militias in turn intensified pressure on their government to negotiate a withdrawal of U.S. troops and launch an investigation into the targeted killings. As reported in the second accompanying article, also from al-Araby al-Jadeed, KH also launched an investigation aimed at identifying and rooting out U.S. collaborators within the Islamic Resistance. As noted in the third accompanying article, from the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese daily al-Akhbar, the Islamic Resistance’s attacks and threats may be used to sow distrust between the United Stats and ISF partner forces. The escalatory tit-for-tat between the Islamic Resistance and U.S. forces is ushering in an atmosphere of increasing uncertainty and distrust in Iraq, further complicating what is already a tangled and potentially volatile security environment.


Sources:

العراق: فصائل مسلحة تضغط لنقل مستودعات أسلحتها إلى قواعد الجيش لتجنّب القصف الأميركي

“Iraq: Armed factions are pressing to transfer their weapons depots to army bases to avoid American bombing,” al-Araby al-Jadeed (Qatari-aligned daily), 6 January 2024. https://www.alaraby.co.uk/politics/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82-%D9%81%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%A6%D9%84-%D9%85%D8%B3%D9%84%D8%AD%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D8%B6%D8%BA%D8%B7-%D9%84%D9%86%D9%82%D9%84-%D9%85%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%AF%D8%B9%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A3%D8%B3%D9%84%D8%AD%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%A7-%D8%A5%D9%84%D9%89-%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D9%8A%D8%B4

Today, Sunday, Iraqi security sources in Baghdad revealed to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that the Iraqi Ministry of Defense was under pressure to transfer ammunition depots belonging to armed factions to Iraqi army bases and camps to prevent them from being targeted in the future by American aircraft.


العراق: تحقيقات سرية بحثاً عن “متعاونين” مع واشنطن بتنفيذ عمليات الاغتيال “Iraq: Secret investigations in search of “collaborators” with Washington in carrying out the assassination operations,” al-Araby al-Jadeed (Qatari-aligned daily), 11 February 2024. https://www.alaraby.co.uk/politics/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82-%D8%AA%D8%AD%D9%82%D9%8A%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%B3%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A8%D8%AD%D8%AB%D8%A7%D9%8B-%D8%B9%D9%86-%D9%85%D8%AA%D8%B9%D8%A7%D9%88%D9%86%D9%8A%D9%86-%D9%85%D8%B9-%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B4%D9%86%D8%B7%D9%86-%D8%A8%D8%AA%D9%86%D9%81%D9%8A%D8%B0-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%BA%D8%AA%D9%8A%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%AA

The source told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, on condition that his name not be mentioned, that “the accuracy of choosing the targets and the accuracy of carrying out the assassination operations indicated the presence of a dangerous infiltration and collaborators who provided accurate information to Washington to carry out its strikes”… 

Anxiety is rising in Iraq in general, and among the factions in particular, which fear assassinations and other strikes that may be carried out by the United States of America, whose drones roam the skies of Baghdad on an almost daily basis. This has prompted the faction leaders to change their tactics and movements and attempt to take stricter security measures to avoid being targeted by America.


عزل أميركي للعراقيين خشية «الاختراق»: المقاومة تضمّ «السفارة» إلى بنك الأهداف “American isolation of the Iraqis for fear of ‘infiltration’: The resistance includes the ‘embassy’ in the target bank,” al-Akhbar (pro-Hezbollah Lebanese daily), 9 February 2024. https://al-akhbar.com/Palestine/374023

…an Iraqi military official from the security crews residing inside the Ain al-Assad base (west of Baghdad), in an interview with Al-Akhbar, recounts his observations. Since the beginning of the base being subjected to missile strikes, he said, “The American forces have dealt with us with constant caution, and have their own security protocol in terms of inspecting all those entering and leaving the base. But after the recent attacks, it increased its measures in a way that we did not witness even two years ago, when Iran bombed the base with a large number of ballistic missiles”…

He explains that “the American side deals with the Iraqi side with suspicion in terms of exchanging information, for fear of it being leaked to parties linked to the armed factions.” 


Notes:

[i] Of the two, HAN has been by far the most hardline and active member of the “Islamic Resistance” since 7 October. See: “Who Are Nujaba and Why Did the U.S. Just Strike Them?” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 4 January 2024. https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/who-are-nujaba-and-why-did-us-just-strike-them In late January, KH vowed to suspend attacks against the United States. HAN, in contrast, vowed to continue its attacks. See: “Explaining Apparent Muqawama De-Escalation Since January 28,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 7 February 2024. https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/explaining-apparent-muqawama-de-escalation-january-28

[ii] “KH operates the state-funded 45th, 46th, and 47th Brigades of the PMF. Chain of command nominally runs through the KH-dominated Popular Mobilization Committee in the Prime Minister’s Office. In practice, KH’s PMF brigades frequently disobey the government chain of command while legally remaining organs of the Iraqi state.” See: “Profile: Kataib Hezbollah,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1 April 2021. https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/profile-kataib-hezbollah

For an up-to-date overview on Iraq’s militia landscape, see: “Iraq’s New Regime Change: How Tehran-Backed


Terrorist Organizations and Militias Captured the Iraqi State,” CTC Sentinel, December 2023. https://ctc.westpoint.edu/iraqs-new-regime-change-how-tehran-backed-terrorist-organizations-and-militias-captured-the-iraqi-state/


Image Information:

Image:  Photo of Al-Nujaba Movement forces (from PMF) in the Makhul Mountains of Salah al-Din province, one kilometer from the ISIL Front, 6 July 2016.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Harakat_Hezbollah_al-Nujaba_in_2016_(24).jpg
Attribution: Fars Media Corporation, CC BY 4.0


Jordan Alarmed by Escalation in Syrian Smuggling Tactics

Syria map showing major cities as well as parts of surrounding countries and the Mediterranean Sea.


“What were initially infiltration and smuggling attempts have evolved into full-fledged armed clashes, with the explicit objective of forcibly crossing the border by targeting Jordanian border guard forces.”


Jordanian authorities are signaling growing alarm over the willingness of smugglers from Syria to use armed force to circumvent tightened Jordanian border security. This comes at a delicate moment for the kingdom due to Israel’s campaign in Gaza, given Jordan’s large Palestinian population and concerns that Jordan could become a conduit for weapons to be smuggled into the West Bank. Smuggling has long been an economic mainstay for communities along the Syria-Jordan border, especially after the Syrian government lost control of key border crossings during the Syrian civil war. Since then, smuggling across the border has become increasingly institutionalized and largely controlled by networks within the Syrian Army’s 4th Division, many of them linked to Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah. Concerns that potentially hostile armed groups control smuggling routes from Syria has led Jordan to tighten security across the shared border, in turn leading smugglers to seek new ways to circumvent border security. Recent reports and statements suggest that smuggling networks in Syria are increasingly willing to use force to get across the increasingly monitored border.

The first accompanying excerpt, from the Syrian opposition news website alsouria.net, explains how small-scale smuggling has “evolved into full-fledged armed clashes, with the explicit objective of forcibly crossing the border by targeting Jordanian border guard forces.” The article adds that Jordanian authorities are concerned about weapons being smuggled into the kingdom. Particularly noteworthy was a mid-December firefight in which a Jordanian border guard was killed, weapons were seized, and an airstrike took place on a purported smuggling safehouse inside Syrian territory, attributed to but not claimed by the Jordanian military. The second excerpt, also from alsouria.net, details the handful of weapons seized during the incident—a handful of rocket propelled grenades, mines, and sniper rifles. Although troubling from a Jordanian perspective, the small number of weapons were likely not part of the primary cargo being smuggled, but rather used by smugglers to force their way across the border. Instead, as the excerpt notes, the primary cargo was hashish and five million Captagon pills, likely destined for Saudi Arabia. The production and export of Captagon, a synthetic amphetamine-like substance—produced in Lebanon and Syria and consumed heavily in Gulf countries—has become a key part of Syria’s wartime economy.[i] The third accompanying excerpt, from the English-language Arab Weekly, claims that Jordan is inflating the threat from smugglers to “secure assistance and stronger cooperation” from Gulf countries, most prominently Saudi Arabia, the destination for much of the contraband. If evidence emerges that weapons are being smuggled across the border, concerns that these weapons could end up in the hands of Shia groups in Saudi Arabia would likely elicit a response from Riyadh. Smuggling along the Syria-Jordan border peaks in the cold winter months, due to the dense fog that often envelops the area at night, hampering visibility for those seeking to curb smugglers. While the seasonal uptick is expected, the increasing willingness of smugglers to engage in firefights with Jordanian border guards is concerning. The failure of increased Jordanian border security measures is a latent concern for Amman. Given that Iran and Hezbollah exert substantial influence over smuggling networks in Syria, the Syria-Jordan border may well become an additional regional flashpoint.


Sources:

“Syrian-Jordanian Border Battle Ends With Airstrikes, Amman Hints at Iran’s Involvement,” alsouria.net (Syrian opposition news website) via The Syrian Observer (Syrian news aggregator), 20 December 2023. https://syrianobserver.com/news/86785/syrian-jordanian-border-battle-ends-with-airstrikes-amman-hints-at-irans-involvement.html

What were initially infiltration and smuggling attempts have evolved into full-fledged armed clashes, with the explicit objective of forcibly crossing the border by targeting Jordanian border guard forces…

This form of military operations and clashes underscores the significant challenges confronting Jordan due to the Syrian regime and the escalating influence of Iran and Hezbollah in Syria. Despite the security measures and military tightening implemented by Amman along the Syrian-Jordanian border, smuggling operations have not only persisted but have also intensified. A particularly alarming security threat arising from these clashes is the initiation of arms and rocket smuggling operations, underscoring the extent of Iranian pressure on Jordan.

“حرب وقتلى” على الحدود السورية الأردنية..رسائل وتحذيرات وخيارات مفتوحة

War and death’ on the Syrian-Jordanian border… messages, warnings, and open options,” alsouria.net (Syrian opposition news website), 19 December 2023.

The Jordanian army seized about five million Captagon pills and about 13,000 hashish palms, in addition to 4 Rocket Launcher missiles, 4 RPG missiles, 10 anti-personnel mines, a G3 sniper rifle, and a M-16 type rifle equipped with a sniper scope.


“Is Jordan inflating smugglers’ threat on border with Syria?” The Arab Weekly (London-based Arabic-language weekly), 19 December 2023. https://thearabweekly.com/jordan-inflating-smugglers-threat-border-syria Observers believe however that Jordan is exaggerating the developments in the border region, pointing out that the phenomenon of active gangs is not new and that most countries suffer from it. Jordan is not an exception, especially since the neighbouring country, Syria, is gripped by security chaos, observers told The Arab Weekly. They suggest the exaggeration may be related to Jordan’s desire to present itself regionally, especially to the Arab Gulf countries, as the first line of defence for regional security. The aim, according to observers, is to secure assistance and stronger cooperation.


Notes:

[i] For more on the Captagon trade, see: Lucas Winter, “Pharmaceutical Drugs and the Syrian War,” OE Watch, December 2015. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/195975 and Lucas Winter, “Syria Becoming Center of Illicit Drug Production and Export to Europe and Arabian Peninsula,” OE Watch, January 2021. https://community.apan.org/cfs-file/__key/telligent-evolution-components-attachments/13-21393-00-00-00-38-05-55/2021_2D00_01_2D00_01-Syria-Becoming-Center-of-Illicit-Drug-Production-_2800_Winter_2900_.pdf?forcedownload=true


Image Information:

Image:  Syria map showing major cities as well as parts of surrounding countries and the Mediterranean Sea.
Source: CIA Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/syria/map Attribution: Public Domain


Houthis’ Red Sea Attacks Not Only Motivated by Gaza

Yemen map showing major population centers as well as parts of neighboring countries and the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.


“The preparation of the naval force comes in light of the enemy mercenaries’ relinquishing of national sovereignty, and their exposing the country’s sovereign oil, gas and fishery resources to unprecedented plunder…”


While recent naval attacks by Yemen’s Ansarallah group—better known as the Houthis—have been justified as being in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, Ansarallah’s build-up of capabilities to engage in an anti-access naval campaign was motivated by domestic concerns that predate Israel’s operations against Hamas in Gaza. Beginning on 19 October, Ansarallah began targeting primarily commercial vessels in the Red Sea using unmanned aerial vehicles, ballistic missiles, and anti-ship cruise missiles. The majority of these weapons were shot down by ships from the USS Gerald Ford Carrier Strike Group.[i] These attacks were concurrent with other attacks carried out by Iranian allies, all presented as in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza and as part of a coordinated anti-Israel response by members of the Iran-led “Axis of Resistance”—Hezbollah in Lebanon, “Islamic Resistance” militias in Iraq, and Ansarallah in Yemen. According to the accompanying excerpt from the official Yemeni daily 26 September, Ansarallah leaders have justified their buildup of anti-ship capabilities as motivated by their adversaries “exposing the country’s sovereign oil, gas and fishery resources to unprecedented plunder” and their attempts to “expand and control the most important strategic ports and islands, such as Socotra and Mayun [also known as Perim Island].” From Ansarallah’s perspective, its domestic adversaries—both the Saudi-backed Internationally Recognized Government and the Emirati-backed Southern Transitional Council—have used the early 2022 UN-brokered truce in Yemen to tighten control over resources and strategic locations on Yemen’s coastline with foreign assistance and complicity.[ii] In August 2023, a few months before hostilities broke out in Gaza, Ansarallah officials threatened to sink two oil tankers seeking to transport Yemeni oil for export from ports in the Gulf Aden under the control of Ansarallah’s domestic opponents. Ansarallah’s position vis-à-vis Red Sea shipping prior to 7 October, per the article, was “to encourage international navigation through the [Bab El Mandab] Strait provided that it does not harm the sovereignty, unity, security or independence of the Republic.” Thus, while Ansarallah’s attacks on shipping vessels transiting Bab El Mandab are—at least rhetorically—linked to Israel’s invasion of Gaza, they should also be understood as a deliberate effort by the group to assert control over the entirety of Yemen’s territorial waters and internationalize the struggle for control of Yemen’s resources and strategic locations.


Sources:

“قدرات اليمن في حماية البحار والمياه الوطنية  Yemeni capabilities for protecting national seas and waterways,” 26 September (official Yemeni daily), 25 September 2023. https://www.26sep.net/index.php/local/64705-2023-09-25-05-09-57

”We were in a raging war with two ships coming to the port of Aden to plunder Yemeni gas, and they retreated four times, most recently yesterday. We informed the companies that owned the ships ‘Sinmar Jane’ and ‘Bolivar’ that we would strike them if they entered to loot gas from the port of Aden, and they are ready to do so. A few days earlier, President Al-Mashat vowed to ‘target the military bases of the Saudi-Emirati coalition forces on the Yemeni islands.’ At that time, he concurred with the Chief of Staff of the Naval Forces and Coastal Defense, Brigadier General Mansour Ahmed Al-Saadi, ‘on the level of qualitative armament that the naval forces now possess, which enables them to confront the enemy with all merit and ability, and allows them to meet the challenges…”


The Minister of Defense, Major General Muhammad Nasser Al-Atifi, had previously confirmed that maritime security of Yemeni territorial waters would be a priority in the next stage…

The preparation of the naval force comes in light of the enemy mercenaries’ relinquishing of national sovereignty, and their exposing the country’s sovereign oil, gas and fishery resources to unprecedented plunder. Alongside this organized plunder are the occupation’s efforts to expand and control the most important strategic ports and islands, such as Socotra and Mayun. It was necessary for the Yemeni armed forces to carry out their duty to protect the territorial waters and the sovereign wealth of oil, gas and fisheries from the dangers coming from the coalition of aggressors and their mercenaries from inside and outside the country, and to prepare themselves as a deterrent weapon for all these ambitions. Regarding freedom of international navigation in the Bab al-Mandab Strait, the position of the Republic of Yemen is specific and clear, which is to encourage international navigation through the Strait provided that it does not harm the sovereignty, unity, security or independence of the Republic.


Notes:

[i] For details on Ansarallah’s naval arsenal, see: “A Maritime Menace: The Houthi Navy,” Oryx Blog, 2 January 2023. https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2023/01/a-maritime-menace-houthi-navy.html; “Houthis Showcase Large Arsenal Of Missiles, Drones At Sana’a Military Parade,” MEMRI, 21 September 2023. https://www.memri.org/tv/houthis-showcase-large-arsenal-missiles-drones-military-parade; “Under Fire in the Bab al-Mandab: Houthi Military Capabilities and U.S. Response Options,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 8 December 2023. https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/under-fire-bab-al-mandab-houthi-military-capabilities-and-us-response-options;“Houthi anti-ship missile systems: getting better all the time,” IISS, 4 January 2024. https://www.iiss.org/online-analysis/military-balance/2024/01/houthi-anti-ship-missile-systems-getting-better-all-the-time/ For details on Ansarallah’s anti-ship ballistic missiles, see: “We Might Have Just Seen the World’s First Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Attack,” Popular Mechanics, 1 December 2023. https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/navy-ships/a45964460/first-anti-ship-ballistic-missile-attack-houthi-rebels/

[ii] For more on control over Socotra, see: Lucas Winter, “Regional Friction Over Yemen’s Socotra Island,” OE Watch, June 2018. https://community.apan.org/cfs-file/__key/telligent-evolution-components-attachments/13-17883-00-00-00-27-93-72/2018_2D00_06_2D00_01-Regional-Friction-Over-Yemen_1920_s-Socotra-Island-_2800_Winter_2900_.pdf?forcedownload=true; For more on control over Yemen’s Arabian Sea ports, see: Lucas Winter, “Saudis Seek Pathway to the Arabian Sea,” OE Watch, October 2018. https://community.apan.org/cfs-file/__key/telligent-evolution-components-attachments/13-17883-00-00-00-26-69-08/2018_2D00_10_2D00_01-Saudis-Seek-Pathway-to-the-Arabian-Sea-_2800_Winter_2900_.pdf?forcedownload=true


Image Information:

Image:  Yemen map showing major population centers as well as parts of neighboring countries and the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.
Source: CIA Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/yemen/map
Attribution: Public Domain

Fears of Gaza Violence Prompt Egypt To Reinforce the Sinai Border

Map of Egypt showing major cities as well as parts of surrounding countries and the Mediterranean and Red Seas.


“Threats [to Egypt] usually come from the east, and Gaza is Egypt’s first line of defense…”


Egypt has turned its strategic focus toward its eastern border amidst rising concerns that violence from Israel’s military operation in Gaza could spill over into the Sinai Peninsula. Most concerning to Egypt’s military-led government is the potential of a massive influx of Palestinian refugees into the Sinai.[i] The Egyptian military, according to the first accompanying excerpt from the Qatar-aligned daily al-Araby al-Jadeed, is firmly opposed to any relocation of Gaza’s residents to the Sinai. Reflecting these principles, Egyptian President Sisi has stated that “Egypt has not and will never allow the displacement of Palestinians from Gaza to Sinai.”[ii] A secondary security concern for Egypt’s Armed Forces is cross-border fire from errant projectiles from both sides of the conflict.[iii] As a result of these concerns, Egypt has begun to quietly take precautions. It has increased its military and security presence around the Rafah border crossing.[iv] In late October, Egyptian military leadership conducted a readiness inspection of the Armed Forces’ 4th Armored Division, 3rd Field Army, based in Suez.[v] Military and security measures alone, however, are unlikely to ease the mounting pressure on Egypt’s border with Gaza. The second accompanying excerpt, also from al-Araby al-Jadeed, argues that Egypt will need to overhaul its strategic thinking to cope with these pressures. To do so, the author argues, the Egyptian government should provide immediate, open support for Hamas via all means possible short of war. In addition, he argues that Egypt should begin to “coordinate positions as closely as possible and share concerns and capabilities with Qatar, Turkey, Iran, and Jordan.”


Sources:

مخططات تهجير الفلسطينيين إلى سيناء… رفض مصري ممتد لعقود

“Decades-long Egyptian rejection of plans to forcibly relocate Palestinians to Sinai,” Al-Araby al-Jadeed (Qatari-aligned daily), 2 November 2023.https://www.alaraby.co.uk/politics/مخططات-تهجير-الفلسطينيين-إلى-سيناء-رفض-مصري-ممتد-لعقود

Despite these fears, this plan still depends on many factors in order to implement it, “some of which are almost impossible,” according to the description of a former Egyptian security official, who spoke to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on condition of anonymity. On top of these factors is “the position of the Egyptian military establishment, which absolutely rejects the idea of ​​settling Palestinians in Sinai , due to many considerations related to Egyptian national security.”

The former official added, “The army’s rejection of that idea existed previously, during the era of the late President Hosni Mubarak, and it still exists today, which can be seen in the messages conveyed in President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s recent speeches, which seemed to be directed to the armed forces in order to reassure its leaders and allay their fears.”


لماذا على مصر التفكير في أمنها القومي بشكل مختلف؟

“Why should Egypt think about its national security in a different way?” Al-Araby al-Jadeed (Qatari-aligned daily), 12 November 2023. https://www.alaraby.co.uk/opinion/لماذا-على-مصر-التفكير-في-أمنها-القومي-بشكل-مختلف

… Egyptian national security theory and its constants, or what remains of those constants, the most important of which is that threats usually come from the east, and Gaza is Egypt’s first line of defense, and that whenever Gaza collapses, Egypt’s defensive lines collapse, regardless of the degree of compatibility with the political or administrative system in power following the collapse…

The Egyptian government must immediately stop talking about more than meager aid, as after a month of aggression, no more people entered the Gaza Strip than they did one day before. It must restrain the “Samsung media”, as this is a major national security issue and a top priority, and this is not the time to export hatred for the Palestinian resistance and belittle it, nor the time to outbid it, condemn it, or blame the victims in any way. Rather, it is the best piece of chess through which everything you want can be achieved. Without a single concession. Egypt should coordinate positions as closely as possible and share concerns and capabilities with Qatar, Turkey, Iran, and Jordan.


Notes:

[i] The idea of a population transfer from Gaza to the Sinai is not new and has been floated several times before. Since 7 October, several Israeli statements and documents have alluded to the forcible displacement of Gaza’s population as a policy option. See for instance: “An Israeli ministry, in a ‘concept paper,’ proposes transferring Gaza civilians to Egypt’s Sinai,” AP, 30 October 2023. https://apnews.com/article/israel-gaza-population-transfer-hamas-egypt-palestinians-refugees-5f99378c0af6aca183a90c631fa4da5a; Giora Eiland. “It’s time to rip off the Hamas band-aid,” Ynet News, 12 October 2023. https://www.ynetnews.com/article/sju3uabba

[ii] Statement quoted in: “Defend and populate Sinai,” al-Ahram Weekly, 31 October 2023. https://english.ahram.org.eg/News/511373.aspx

[iii] This includes projectiles fired toward Israel from the south that have landed along the Sinai’s Red Sea coast, as well as cross-border Israeli fire that hit an Egyptian border guard post near Gaza. On the former, see: “Drone blasts hit two Egyptian Red Sea towns, Israel points to Houthi,” AP, 27 October 2023. https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/explosion-heard-egyptian-red-sea-town-near-israeli-border-witness-2023-10-27/ On the latter, see: “At least seven injured as Israeli tank ‘accidentally’ hits Egyptian border,” al-Jazeera, 22 October 2023. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/10/22/at-least-seven-injured-as-israeli-tank-accidentally-hits-egyptian-border

[iv] Images of Egyptian special forces deployed in Rafah can be found at: https://twitter.com/mahmouedgamal44/status/1715623393909694745

[v] The inspection included the first official appearance of the South Korean K9A1 155 mm self-propelled howitzer in the Egyptian military.  For images and description of the platforms involved see: https://twitter.com/mahmouedgamal44/status/1717074441501290762.


Image Information:

Image: Map of Egypt showing major cities as well as parts of surrounding countries and the Mediterranean and Red Seas.
Source: CIA Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/egypt/map Attribution: Public Domain


Syrian Regime, Opposition Wary of Hamas Despite Support for 7 October Attacks on Israel

Damage in Gaza Strip during the October 2023


“Syrians received the news of the operation as a historic, heroic act that was able to break the prestige of the Israeli occupier…”


On the surface, Hamas seems to enjoy widespread support in Syria among backers of both the government and the anti-government Sunni Arab opposition.[i] Media outlets associated with each side have used laudatory rhetoric to describe the 7 October Hamas “al-Aqsa Flood” operation. The first accompanying excerpt from the anti-Syrian-government news website Syria TV,describes the Hamas raid as “a source of pride for the Arab and Islamic nation in every sense of the word.” The second excerpt, from the pro-Syrian government daily al-Watan, states that Hamas’ raid “will be recorded in history in golden letters that time will not erase.” In addition to widespread support for the operation itself, outlets affiliated with both the Syrian regime and the opposition strongly oppose Israel’s military actions in Gaza. Thus, according to the author of the third accompanying excerpt from the Qatar-aligned al-Araby al-Jadeed, events in Gaza have forged the first “consensus among the various components of the Syrian people…since the beginning of the revolution.” And yet, while they agree with the operation, the Syrian government and its opposition also concur in being wary of Hamas. Hamas was an ally of the Syrian government until 2012, when it broke with Damascus and sided with members of the Syrian rebellion. In 2017, however, Hamas’s new leadership steered the group back into the pro-Iran camp, and in 2022, Hamas formally reconciled with the Syrian government.[ii] Many in the Syrian opposition resent Hamas’s return to supporting the Syrian government, as expressed in the fourth accompanying excerpt from the Syrian opposition news website SyriaDirect. Similarly, the Syrian government remains skeptical of Hamas despite their recent rapprochement. Last August, Syrian President Assad accused Hamas’ leadership of “betrayal” for siding with Syrian rebels and against his government for much of the 2010s.[iii] Indeed, since the “al-Aqsa Flood” attack on 7 October, the Assad government has taken steps to remove military assets from areas near the border with Israel, in a sign that it seeks to avoid becoming militarily entangled on Hamas’ side.[iv] This shared perspective between the Syrian government and opposition – widespread support for the  “al-Aqsa Flood” operation, strong opposition to Israeli military activity in Gaza, and a general distrust of Hamas – is likely generalizable to other segments of the broader Arab public.


Sources:

طوفان الأقصى وأسطورة الجيش الذي لا يقهر 

Fayez al-Asmar. “Al-Aqsa Flood and the myth of the invincible army,” Syria TV (Syrian opposition news website), 12 October 2023. https://www.syria.tv/طوفان-الأقصى-وأسطورة-الجيش-الذي-لا-يقهر 

In fact, the Hamas operation is an unprecedented military operation in terms of size and method of implementation in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and it in itself is a source of pride for the Arab and Islamic nation in every sense of the word. 

بين «طوفان الأقصى» والطوفان الجارف 

Rifaat Badawi. “Between the al-Aqsa Flood and the torrential flood,” Al-Watan (pro-government Syrian daily), 10 October 2023. https://www.alwatanonline.com/بين-طوفان-الأقصى-والطوفان-الجارف/

The “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation will be recorded in history in golden letters that time will not erase, because it will remain engraved in the memory of the Palestinian and Arab generations who believe in resisting and defeating the Israeli occupation, for all of Palestine, from the river to the sea, and its capital will be Holy Jerusalem, no matter how many sacrifices are made and no matter how long it takes.

غزة التي وحدت السوريين

“Gaza, which unified Syrians,” al-Araby al-Jadeed (Qatari-aligned daily), 15 October 2023. https://www.alaraby.co.uk/politics/غزة-التي-وحدت-السوريين

The “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation and the subsequent Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip formed a consensus among the various components of the Syrian people, with all their affiliations, the first of its kind since the beginning of the Syrian revolution. At the popular level, in all opposition-controlled areas, and in diaspora countries, Syrians received the news of the operation as a historic, heroic act that was able to break the prestige of the Israeli occupier.

من إدلب هنا غزة: السوريون يشاركون الفلسطينيين آلامهم ويستذكرون مأساتهم

“From Idlib to Gaza: Syrians share the pain of the Palestinians and remember their tragedy,” Syria Direct (Syrian opposition news website), 21 October 2023. https://syriadirect.org/من-إدلب-هنا-غزة-السوريون-يشاركون-الفلس/

Many Syrians feel let down by the Hamas movement, which restored relations with the Syrian regime in 2022, after ten years of estrangement that began when it left Damascus in February 2012. This in addition to Hamas’s close relations with Iran, the regime’s main ally in suppressing Syrians who protested against Assad in the spring of 2011, demanding freedom. However, their position on Hamas did not affect their sympathy for the Palestinian cause and support for the people of Gaza, as expressed by a number of sources who spoke to Syria Direct.


Notes:

[i] For additional context see: “Syrians’ Reactions to the First Weeks of Israel-Hamas War,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy-Fikra Forum, 24 October 2023. https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/syrians-reactions-first-weeks-israel-hamas-war

[ii] For additional details on Hamas in the region, see: Lucas Winter. “Hamas Rejoins the Resistance Axis,” OE Watch, December 2017.

https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/216805

[iii] “After Assad Insulted its Leaders, Hamas to Open Office in Damascus,” Syrian Observer, 15 August 2023. https://syrianobserver.com/news/84563/after-assad-insulted-its-leaders-hamas-to-open-office-in-damascus.html

[iv] “Al-Assad Was Absent from Nasrallah’s Speech,” Syrian Observer, 10 November 2023. https://syrianobserver.com/commentary/86113/al-assad-was-absent-from-nasrallahs-speech.html


Image Information:

Image:  Damage in Gaza Strip during the October 2023
Source: Palestinian News & Information Agency (Wafa) in contract with APAimages,https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Damage_in_Gaza_Strip_during_the_October_2023_-_32.jpg
Attribution: CC BY-SA 3.0


Arabic Media Boasts Narrative Of Victory Following Hamas’ 7 October Attack Of Israel

Israel strikes targets in Gaza Strip, October 2023


“What happened…will cause the Israeli public, especially those in the settlements surrounding Gaza, to lose confidence in the ‘professional army’ model that the occupation army has promoted in the last two decades…”


In the aftermath of the 7 October attack by the Hamas Qassam Brigades into Israel’s Gaza Envelope, a narrative of victory regarding the operation appears to be crystalizing in Arabic-language media. The accompanying excerpts from mainstream Arabic-language publications illustrate the contours of this narrative, in which Israeli forces are portrayed as largely ineffective and Qassam forces as highly effective. The first accompanying excerpt, from Qatari-aligned daily newspaper al-Araby al-Jadeed, emphasizes that the raid brought to light a disconnect between the image and reality of Israeli capabilities. According to the article, Israel’s elite forces and its military-security technology both suffered a reputational defeat that will lead the “Israeli public, especially those in the settlements surrounding Gaza, to lose confidence in the ‘professional army’ model.” Parallel to the narrative of Israeli military ineffectiveness is a narrative of the Qassam Brigades’ competence and operational success. The second accompanying excerpt, from Qatari-funded and pro-Arab al-Jazeera, is centered on Hamas’s information advantage and effective operational planning and execution, highlighting the group’s “strategic deception” and the effective coordination between various Qassam units (elite forces, engineering teams, drone operators, rocket/artillery units, and marine commandos).[i] The third accompanying excerpt, from Lebanon’s al-Akhbar, presents Qassam’s elite forces as devoted, committed, religious, mentally and physically strong young men. These young men, the author concludes, have replaced Qassam [RG1] ’s rockets as “the most permanent and effective strategic weapon.”[ii] The divergence between this emerging narrative of Hamas’s competence and heroism, and the Western portrayal of Hamas’s fighters as brutal terrorists, is striking.


Sources:

“نخبة القسام في مواجهة «اليمام»

(Qassam’s elite faces ‘Yamam’),” al-Araby al-Jadeed (Qatari-aligned daily), 14 October 2023. https://www.alaraby.co.uk/investigations/نخبة-القسام-في-مواجهة-اليمامالسردية-الإسرائيلية-تسقط-في-غلاف-غزة

Al-Najjar… confirms that the clashes that took place with the Qassam elite forces were isolated pockets, and were carried out by individual settlers, who were killed or captured immediately, while the occupation army did not resist…

The occupying state, which promotes the capabilities of its elite forces, even through drama, as in the case of the widely known “Fauda” series, needs a long time to repair the damage to the prestige of its own units, according to Saeed Abu Moalla, professor of media at the Arab American University…

It is not only the reputation of the elite combat units that was damaged in the battle of the “Al-Aqsa Flood,” says Ahmed Rafiq Awad, head of the “Jerusalem Center for Future Studies” at Al-Quds University. The military technology units in the occupation army, which market themselves as being the top in manufacture spyware, as well as the military industries that established the separation fence with the Gaza Strip, including its surveillance tools, have also been subjected to a profound shock that will affect their reputation around the world…

Ultimately, what happened, according to Mansour, Awad, and Erekat, will cause the Israeli public, especially those in the settlements surrounding Gaza, to lose confidence in the “professional army” model that the occupation army has promoted in the last two decades, which relies on elite units and high technology.


الأدوات العسكرية للمقاومة في معركة “طوفان الأقصى”

(The Resistance’s military tools in the ‘al-Aqsa Flood’ battle),” al-Jazeera (pro-Arab Qatari media company), 14 October, https://www.aljazeera.net/politics/2023/10/14/الأدوات-العسكرية-للمقاومة-في-معركة

The resistance used all military operational tools, starting with intelligence deception operations of the intelligence services in the occupying state, led by the “Aman” [military intelligence] apparatus, which is responsible for giving estimates of the army’s position to the political leadership. The resistance was also able to hide the details of the operation and preparations from Israeli technology and espionage systems, and to mobilize forces, organize equipment, and maintain leadership and command during the battle, through the resistance’s continuous affirmation of the progress of the prepared plan, and its later announcement of rotating forces on the front and supplying the fighters with ammunition and equipment.


العابرون على جناح “النخبة”: هؤلاء أبناؤنا الذين لم يكبروا بعد

(Those going through the ‘elite’ wing: these are our children who have not yet grown up),” al-Akhbar (pro-Hezbollah leftist Lebanese daily), 9 October 2023. https://www.al-akhbar.com/Palestine/370863/العابرون-على-جناح-النخبة-هؤلاء-أبناؤنا-الذين-لم-يكبروا-بع

Out of every 100 fighters, the resistance selects one or two who succeed in passing the physical, psychological, and spiritual tests…

What is it like for Muhannad to be among the elite? A young man free from all restrictions, single, of pure nature, who believes in authentic slogans untainted by reality, whose heart is attached to God, who is enthusiastic and has an excellent physical structure, and also, wholly ready for sacrifice…

Before the day before yesterday, missiles were, in the eyes of both enemy and friend, the only resistance weapon capable of limited action and morally acceptable impact. Today, rockets have become a secondary weapon, while men’s forearms, which trampled on Zionist military honor, have become the most permanent and effective strategic weapon.


Notes:

[i] Planning is important for the Qassam Brigades. A Qassam training manual, published in 2011, appears to have been used by ISIS for training. See: “Military Training in the Islamic State,” OE Watch, August 2015.

[ii] These elite forces are purported to include 5,000 well-trained and well-equipped forces, per a 2017 study by Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies https://www.inss.org.il/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/GazaCrisis_ENG-51-62.pdf


Image Information:

Image:  Israel strikes targets in Gaza Strip, October 2023
Source: Palestinian News & Information Agency (Wafa) in contract with APAimages, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Damage_in_Gaza_Strip_during_the_October_2023_-_01.jpg
Attribution: CC 3.0


Russia Uses Diplomacy To Increase Military Influence In Libya

Russian military assets in Al Khadim airfield, Libya, 2020


“Libya offers at least two advantages to Russia: its ports are only about an hour’s flight from the European coast, and its air bases in the south are very close to Sudan and the African Sahel countries…”


A series of recent diplomatic visits involving Russian officials and Libyan military leader Khalifa Haftar could eventually lead to deepening bilateral military relations, according to regional press coverage.[i] In August, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov led the first-ever Russian military delegation to visit Haftar.[ii] Yevkurov went back less than a month later, in mid-September, quickly followed by a visit to Moscow by Haftar, where he met with Russian President Putin and Defense Minister Shoigu. According to the first excerpt from al-Araby al-Jadeed, a Qatari-aligned daily newspaper, Haftar is seeking a more formal defense relationship with Russia, which would include official political recognition for Haftar and his allies, as well as sustained military support for forces under Haftar’s control. In exchange, per the second accompanying excerpt, from the Turkish news agency Anadolu Agency, Russia would establish a long-term aerial and naval military presence in eastern Libya, similar to its current presence in Syria.As the excerpt notes, Libya’s proximity to Europe, the Sahel, and Sudan gives it unique geopolitical value to Russia, creating a corridor of influence linking its bases in Syria to territories ruled by friendly governments in the African Sahel. Although the discussions remain nothing more than talks at the moment, the intensity of Russia’s military-diplomatic efforts signals Moscow’s growing interest in increasing its military influence in eastern Libya.


Sources:

“حفتر يجري لقاءات مكثفة مع مسؤولين في روسيا: بحث عن شراكة عسكرية معلنة؟

(Haftar holds intensive meetings with Russian officials: Seeking over military partnership?),” al-Araby al-Jadeed (Qatari-aligned daily), 28 September 2023. https://www.alaraby.co.uk/politics/حفتر-يجري-لقاءات-مكثفة-مع-مسؤولين-روس-بحث-عن-شراكة-عسكرية-معلنة

In other details about Haftar’s discussions in Moscow, sources’ information agreed that Haftar asked Moscow to upgrade the level of bilateral relations by signing a defense and security agreement stipulating that he would obtain more military equipment, such as Russian air defense systems, drones, and the establishment of advanced workshops to maintain his militia’s military equipment, most of which are Russian-made.

According to the same sources, Moscow summoned Haftar after he repeated his request during Yevkirov’s two visits to Benghazi, last August and the week before last. The sources confirmed that the discussions are still in early stages, as Moscow is still unwilling to officially announce its presence in Libya by signing any official and announced agreement.


“حفتر بين مطرقة العقوبات الأمريكية وسندان الدعم الروسي

(Haftar between the hammer of US sanctions and the anvil of Russian support),” Anadolu Agency (Turkish news agency), 2 October 2023. https://www.aa.com.tr/ar/التقارير/حفتر-بين-مطرقة-العقوبات-الأمريكية-وسندان-الدعم-الروسي-إضاءة/3005791

… Haftar has not abandoned Russian support and is asking for a price in return, not the least of which is recognition of his legitimacy and the provision of heavy and advanced weapons such as combat aircraft, drones, and air defense systems… [Russia] is still prepared to provide more weapons and training to his soldiers, and maintain military equipment in exchange for establishing its military presence on the southern front of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This makes it difficult for Haftar to choose between US sanctions and Russian military and diplomatic support…

Libya offers at least two advantages to Russia: its ports are only about an hour’s flight from the European coast, and its air bases in the south are very close to Sudan and the African Sahel countries. Although Wagner elements were deployed in several Libyan air bases in the east and south, such as Al-Jufra (central), Al-Kharrouba (east), Brak Al-Shati and Tamanhint (south), they have not yet been able to have an independent naval base in Sirte nor an air base in Al-Jufra (east of Tripoli)—as is the case with the Hmeimim air base and Tartus naval base in Syria—due to American pressure on Haftar. Therefore, observers expect that Moscow will seek to seize more than one military base in Libya, and connect them to its air supply line from Russia to Syria, passing through Libya and from there to its allies in Sudan and the African Sahel countries, all the way to the Central African Republic.


Notes:

[i] For additional reporting and context, see: “Russia Seeks to Expand Naval Presence in the Mediterranean,” Wall Street Journal, 15 September 2023. https://www.wsj.com/world/africa/russia-seeks-to-expand-naval-presence-in-the-mediterranean-b8da4d; “Libya: The security relationship between Khalifa Haftar and Moscow is intensifying,” Le Monde, 11 October 2023. https://www.lemonde.fr/en/le-monde-africa/article/2023/10/11/libya-the-security-relationship-between-khalifa-haftar-and-moscow-is-intensifying_6162923_124.html; and “After Libya’s floods, Russia throws its weight behind Haftar,” The New Arab, 9 October 2023. https://www.newarab.com/analysis/after-libyas-floods-russia-throws-its-weight-behind-haftar

[ii] The Russian Defense Ministry’s Telegram channel reported on it being the first-ever such visit https://t.me/mod_russia/29689. Yevkurov first visit was on 22 August, the day before the head of the Wagner Group was killed in an airplane crash and in the context of reassuring African countries with Wagner presence that the PMC was now under government control. Yevkurov returned to Libya on 17 September, in the aftermath of the Derna floods. Haftar traveled to Moscow on 28 September. 


Image Information:

Image:  Russian military assets in Al Khadim airfield, Libya, 2020
Source: US AFRICOM Public Affairs, https://www.africom.mil/pressrelease/33034/russia-and-the-wagner-group-continue-to-be-in  
Attribution: Public Domain