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

Rising Violence Prompts Ecuador To Declare “Internal Armed Conflict”

Noboa, the youngest president in Ecuador’s history, faces a crisis of insecurity.


“President Daniel Noboa issued…an executive decree that reforms the current state of emergency and recognizes the existence of an ‘internal armed conflict.’”


Ecuador has been reeling from a dramatic increase in homicides over the past four years as gangs have evolved into transnational criminal organizations linked to Mexico’s drug cartels.[i]. The country’s homicide rate rose from 6.7 per 100,000 citizens in 2019 to an estimated 45 per 100,000 in 2023.[ii] In a recent 48-hour period, two notorious gang leaders escaped prison, gangs laid siege to the University of Guayaquil, and one group stormed a live news broadcast, televising the bedlam for nearly 20 minutes before cutting the transmission, reports center-left Argentine news outlet Clarín. In response to this spate of violence, the recently elected Noboa government declared a state of emergency. However, the continued threat posed by multiple criminal groups has led Noboa to dramatically increase the sense of urgency, declaring instead an “internal armed conflict.” This empowered the nation’s armed forces to enforce a 60-day curfew and restore domestic security, according to Ecuadorian digital news outlet Primicias. The decree enumerated nearly two dozen armed groups and classified them as domestic terrorist organizations, the outlet says. Noboa is only a few months into his term, following a presidential campaign that featured the assassination at the hands of criminal groups of Fernando Villavicencio, a popular anticorruption candidate.[iii] To complement his presidential decree, Noboa announced a package of increased measures, including the construction of additional maximum-security prisons and the expropriation of criminal assets. The effectiveness of these measures bears watching throughout 2024 to see if Ecuador follows down a similar path as El Salvador or continues to spiral down into criminality and violence.


Sources:

“Súplicas de ‘no me maten’ y una granada en el bolsillo: así tomó en vivo un grupo narco el canal de televisión en Ecuador (Pleas of ‘don’t kill me’ and a grenade in the pocket: this is how a drug group took over a television channel in Ecuador live),” Clarín (Argentina’s oldest outlet that is generally considered center left), 9 January 2024. https://www.clarin.com/mundo/grupo-armado-irrumpio-transmision-vivo-canal-television-ecuador_0_0okSuT5tJC.html

An armed group stormed the live broadcast of a television channel in Ecuador, threatening those who were in charge of the programming with guns and weapons of war. There were also violent episodes at the University of Guayaquil and on commercial premises…the security forces stated only two hours after the assault that they were able to recover the taken buildings.


“Noboa declara conflicto armado interno y dispone la salida de militares (Noboa declares internal armed conflict and orders the departure of soldiers),” Primicias (a digital news outlet based in the capital, Quito) 9 January 2024. https://www.primicias.ec/noticias/politica/noboa-conflicto-armado-interno-militares/President Daniel Noboa issued…an executive decree that reforms the current state of emergency and recognizes the existence of an ‘internal armed conflict.’ Therefore, it provides for the immediate mobilization and intervention of the Armed Forces and the Police in the national territory. The decree was issued minutes after armed attackers took over the TC Television facilities and broadcast live. This new decree establishes the identification of…organized crime groups as ‘terrorist organizations and belligerent non-state actors.’


Notes:

[i] Previous governments, unable to stem the growth in criminal potency, have issued pleas to the international community for a “Plan Ecuador,” akin to the wide-ranging security assistance plan and social makeover that helped save Colombia from similar threats in the 1990s and 2000s. For more information, see: Ryan Berg “President Lasso Calls for ‘Plan Ecuador’ Amid Growing Security Concerns,” OE Watch, 12-2021. https://community.apan.org/cfs-file/__key/telligent-evolution-components-attachments/13-21393-00-00-00-40-08-49/2021_2D00_12_2D00_01-President-Lasso-Calls-for-_1C20_Plan-Ecuador_1D20_-Amid-_2800_Berg_2900_.pdf?forcedownload=true

[ii] For more information on rising homicide figures in Ecuador, see: “How Ecuador Became Latin America’s Deadliest Country,” The Economist, 10 January 2024. https://www.economist.com/the-americas/2024/01/10/how-ecuador-became-latin-americas-deadliest-country

[iii] For more on Villavicencio, see: Ryan Berg, “Presidential Candidate Assassination Shows New Depths of Ecuador’s Insecurity,” OE Watch, 09-2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/presidential-candidate-assassination-shows-new-depths-of-ecuadors-insecurity/


Image Information:

Image: Noboa, the youngest president in Ecuador’s history, faces a crisis of insecurity. Source:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/presidenciaecuador/53367780040/  
Attribution: Flickr, PDM 1.0 DEED


Pakistan Deporting Approximately 1.7 Million Undocumented Afghanis in Response to Terrorist Attacks

Flag of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan


“Suppose that the Pakistani government succeeds in deporting all Afghan refugees, will terrorism be eradicated? Obviously not.”


Pakistan continues to struggle with a series of terror attacks, leading the government to resort to mass deportations of Afghan refugees to curb the violence. According to the first excerpted article from the Pashto-language version of the German media company Deutsche Welle, terrorists carried out four separate attacks in Pakistan between 3 and 6 November 2023. The attacks, in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Balochistan provinces, resulted in the deaths of 17 soldiers, five civilians, with another 24 wounded. The article notes that ten militants were killed in response, and “security forces have received Afghan ID cards from six of the militants killed in the Zhob [Balochistan] attack.” Amid rising tensions due to the ongoing acts of terrorism, the regional government of the Balochistan province alleged that both border nations, Iran and Afghanistan, were involved in recent attacks to increase political pressure on Pakistan. No evidence was provided to substantiate these allegations. Pakistan’s proposed solution to counter the ongoing violence inside its borders includes the deportation of approximately 1.7 million undocumented Afghanis, some of whom have lived in Pakistan for up to 40 years, according to the second excerpt from the independent Afghan news outlet Hasht e Subh. As of December 2023, over 400,000 have left Pakistan.[i] A majority of the remaining refugees currently reside in either the Balochistan or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces that border Afghanistan.[ii] The article notes that Pakistan has not been able to successfully contain the Pakistani Taliban (Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP)) and has frequently accused the Afghan refugee population of collaborating with the TTP. The article alleges that the Pakistani military has used both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban to further its own geopolitical agenda when convenient. Some Afghan refugees allege that the Pakistani government is committing acts of terrorism by expelling them from the land. A mass deportation of a long-standing population may also lead to an increase in grievances by that community and possibly increased support for the TTP and other like-minded groups, resulting in additional terrorist attacks.[iii] The mass expulsion of undocumented refugees has already created a burden on both the Afghan and Pakistani governments from an economic and human rights perspective.


Sources:

“پاکستان: په ۴۸ ساعتونو کې وسله والو ۴ بریدونه کړي دي (Pakistan: Militants have carried out 4 attacks in 48 hours),” Deutsche Welle (German news site), 6 November 2023. https://p.dw.com/p/4YRJH

According to security sources, militants carried out another attack in The Dera Ismail Khan district of Khyber Pakhtounkhwa yesterday, but this is the fourth attack on Pakistani security forces in the past 48 hours. Last night, police raided a police checkpoint in Ismail Khan district with heavy weapons. The exchange between the police and the armed forces lasted about half an hour, but the militants eventually fled. Police say they have cordoned off the area and are searching for suspected attackers. In the past three days, terrorists have carried out major attacks in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtounkhwa, Punjab and Balochistan provinces, killing 17 security forces, five civilians and wounding about 24 others, including police. Police claimed to have killed 10 people in the attack.

In recent days, attacks in different parts of Pakistan have increased. In the wake of the latest incidents, Balochistan’s regional government has claimed that two neighbouring countries are involved in the terrorist attacks because they want to pressure Pakistan. Balochistan’s Acting Information Minister, Jan Achakzai, told a news conference on Sunday that Pakistan was facing attacks “on both sides” but that it could not undermine the government’s will to defeat terrorists. He claimed that security forces had obtained identification cards from six of the militants killed in the attack. John Achakzai accused India of spreading insecurity in the region and that India’s intelligence agency, “Ro” is “involved in terrorist attacks in Pakistan.” Referring to the two terrorist attacks last week, he said: “We have repeatedly mentioned that India is involved in the terrorist attacks in the country, especially in Balochistan.”


“د کډوالو په اېستلو سره په پاکستان کې ترهګري له منځه نه ځي (Terrorism in Pakistan will not disappear by expelling refugees)” Hasht e Subh (independent Afghan news site), 5 November 2023. https://8am.media/ps/terrorism-in-pakistan-will-not-disappear-by-expelling-refugees/

The interim government of Pakistan has started deporting Afghan refugees en masse, which has provoked widespread protests. The interim prime minister of Pakistan has emphasized that all those illegal Afghan refugees who have been living in Pakistan for the past 40 years will be deported. This move has deepened the crisis which is not new for the Afghans and they have been dealing with it for decades. With the rule of the Taliban, the crisis of immigration has not decreased, but has expanded and increased… This has caused citizens to move to neighboring countries. This is not the only result of the arrival of the Taliban. The strengthening of terrorist groups and the development of their activities is also one of the destructive consequences of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan… The government of Pakistan, which is unable to control the TTP and has not given the desired result to the pressure on the Afghan Taliban to suppress this group, has increased the pressure on the Afghan refugees and accuses the Afghan refugees of terrorist attacks… There is no doubt that the Taliban is involved in many terrorist attacks in Pakistan and will continue to be in the future. But it cannot be that all Afghan refugees are considered terrorists or collaborators of terrorists and the solution is to seek their deportation. In reality, Afghan refugees have not only played an important role in the growth and strengthening of terrorism, but are considered the primary victims of the development of terrorist groups’ activities.

The terrorism that the government of Pakistan is using to expel Afghan refugees from their land today is the result of the deadly game that the soldiers of this country have skillfully played for years and the result was full of benefits for them. Thanks to the terrorist industry managed by the Pakistani army, the people of this country have not seen a stable civilian government and the army has control over all affairs. Terrorism is actually a pretense through which the soldiers introduce themselves as the saviors of Pakistan. If they are not there, the country will become food for wolves… It is not yet clear whether the TTP, as well as the Afghan Taliban, have really escaped the control of the Pakistani army or not; But what can’t be doubted is that the main threat to Pakistan is the soldiers, or to put it bluntly, the managers of the terrorist industry, not the Afghan refugees or the Pashtuns of this country. The Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand Line are the main victims of terrorism trained by the Pakistan Army.In the last few decades, one of the important tasks of the religious seminaries established in Pakistan with the support of the army was the training of the hard-line jihadi generation, who as proxy soldiers of the ESA during the invasion of the Soviet Union and also during the presence of the American forces in Afghanistan, the Pakistani army overthrew the western-backed government in Afghanistan and established its own proxy regime in the country. But now that the jihad in Afghanistan is over, according to the terrorists, how and where will the thousands of jihadists trained in the religious schools of Pakistan quench their thirst for jihad… Suppose that the Pakistani government succeeds in deporting all Afghan refugees, will terrorism be eradicated? Obviously not. The main supporter of terrorism in Pakistan is the army, which is in control of the entire country, and thus, the main source of terrorism in Pakistan is religious madrassas, which continue to operate whether they are children of Afghan refugees or not. and the army does not care about them. Are only Afghans committing suicide attacks? No. Pakistanis are ahead of Afghans in terrorism and extremism…


Notes:

[i] A supplemental report by the Associated Press detailing recent updates in the deportation of undocumented Afghanis in Pakistan: Sattar, Abdul and Munir Ahmed. “A Pakistani province aims to deport 10,000 Afghans a day,” Associated Press, November 30, 2023. https://apnews.com/article/pakistan-baluchistan-deport-migrants-afghans-7393238ace4c49acce9d7c77ebd708bf

[ii] For additional information on Afghan refugees in Pakistan, please visit the United Nations Refugee data website: “Registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan” United Nations Operational Data Portal. https://data.unhcr.org/en/country/pak

[iii] To learn more about the potential impact of grievances and their effect on terrorism globally, see:

Murphy, Natalie. “Why Grievances Matter: An Analysis of the Influence Grievances Have on Domestic Terrorism Globally,” Johns Hopkins University, [Thesis] May 2022. https://jscholarship.library.jhu.edu/server/api/core/bitstreams/0f722198-6850-4d16-8250-5fcad421430b/content


Image Information:

Image: Flag of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag_of_the_Tehrik-i-Taliban_Pakistan.png#globalusage
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


Drug Trafficking a Prime Source of Financing for Venezuela’s Maduro Regime

The Venezuelan armed forces have become critical to the Maduro regime’s ability to move drugs around the world.


“Venezuela is currently an important bridge in global drug trafficking exports, from where between 250 and 350 metric tons per year leave, which has a street value of between 6 and 8 billion dollars.”


The Maduro regime in Venezuela has long maintained links to organized crime groups and drug trafficking organizations (DTOs).[i] However, a recent hack of documents from the Colombian Prosecutor’s Office has revealed the depths of the Maduro regime’s involvement with DTOs. According to the Argentine daily Infobae, the documents allege that Venezuelan Armed Forces are crucial to trafficking drugs through Venezuela. The outlet reports that they cooperate with Colombian guerrillas and are directly involved in the process of moving drugs, as opposed to passively permitting their passage and receiving bribes, as was the case in the past. The second excerpted article from Infobae states that the alleged center of these operations is Catatumbo, a borderland region between Colombia and Venezuela rich in coca production estimated to be 330 tons per year. The article paints a complex picture of rival criminal organizations from Mexico and Venezuela also occupying the same territory. The Maduro regime’s spiral into criminality will likely have meaningful impacts on the operational environment.[ii]Venezuelan Armed Forces’ increased role in Latin America’s drug trafficking operations will have spillover effects for most neighboring countries. At the same time, such activities are likely to deepen the Maduro regime’s staying power.


Sources:

“Un informe reveló cómo el régimen de Maduro hizo del narcotráfico su principal fuente de financiamiento (A report revealed how the Maduro regime made drug trafficking its main source of financing),” Infobae (Argentine daily with excellent regional coverage), 7 November 2023. https://www.infobae.com/venezuela/2023/11/07/un-informe-revelo-como-el-regimen-de-maduro-hizo-del-narcotrafico-su-principal-fuente-de-financiamiento/

Leaked documents from the Colombian Prosecutor’s Office, analyzed and verified through additional interviews and other independent reports, reveal that Venezuelan military personnel, in association with Colombian guerrillas, are directly involved in drug trafficking operations…The epicenter of this network is the mountainous region of Catatumbo, on the border with Venezuela, an area that has a high concentration of coca leaf plantations…More than 330 tons transited through the state of Zulia from the Catatumbo region last year alone, an alarming figure given that experts say that Catatumbo supplies only about 60% of the drugs entering Venezuela. The rest is transported by rivers in the plains region and the jungle region in the south of the country.


“Vínculos del Gobierno venezolano con el narcotráfico en la región del Catatumbo en Colombia revelan filtraciones de documentos de la Fiscalía (Links of the Venezuelan Government with drug trafficking in the Catatumbo region in Colombia revealed by leaks of documents from the Prosecutor’s Office),” Infobae (an Argentine daily with excellent coverage), 8 November 2023. https://www.infobae.com/colombia/2023/11/08/vinculos-del-gobierno-venezolano-con-el-narcotrafico-centran-la-atencion-en-la-region-del-catatumbo-en-colombia/ In the department of Norte de Santander, there is also the presence of the Mexican cartels of Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation, along with the Venezuelan gang known as the Tren de Aragua… The investigation also highlighted the change in the roles of participation of the Venezuelan authorities, which have gone from being bribed by the drug cartels to leading illegal operations themselves, which represents an increase in the complexity and severity of the criminal operations.


Notes:

[i] For information on the Maduro regime’s links to criminal groups, see: Moises Rendón, “Maduro’s Mafia State,” Center for Strategic & International Studies, 31 October 2018. https://www.csis.org/analysis/maduros-mafia-state

[ii] For more information on how the Maduro regime uses criminal groups as an instrument of state power and power projection capability, see: Moises Rendón and Arianna Kohan, “Identifying and Responding to Criminal Threats from Venezuela,” Center for Strategic & International Studies, 22 July 2019. https://www.csis.org/analysis/identifying-and-responding-criminal-threats-venezuela


Image information:

Image: The Venezuelan armed forces have become critical to the Maduro regime’s ability to move drugs around the world.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ch%C3%A1vez_eyes_-_Venezuelan_armed_forces.png
Attribution: Wikimedia, CC BY 3.0 DEED


Indonesia Attempts To Calm Sentiments After Counterinsurgency Operation

A picture of Wamena, Papua, Indonesia, from 2019.


“The protest focused on the government, and in this case the security forces, for actions that the public considers immoral.”


Indonesia has been combatting separatist insurgents in its Papua region since 1965. While the long-running insurgency has ebbed and flowed, there has been a notable increase in tempo in the last five years.[i] The excerpted article from the Papua-based Indonesian-language media outlet Seputarpapua.com describes Indonesia’s calculus in attempting to win over the Papuan civilian population despite their opposition to certain counterinsurgency operations.

The article focuses on the 17 September arrests adjacent to a Papuan church of five suspected members of the Free Papua Organization (OPM), which the Indonesian government calls the “Armed Criminal Group” (KKB). Indonesian police justified the operation by claiming the suspects’ confessions and cellphone content strengthened the evidence of their affiliations and support to KKB. According to the article, the operation enflamed local sensitivities because the house was behind a church and the officers broke down the doors of the house and scuffled with the suspects.[ii] Following the arrests, local Papuans began protesting the perceived desecration of church grounds. The local police chief and the head of the operation responded to the public dissent by meeting with the regional secretary, the chairman of the People’s Representative Council of Papua, the families of the five suspects, and the neighbors of the house where the arrests occurred, explaining the legal process and providing justification for the arrests. In addition, as per the second excerpted article from the independent online Catholic news agency Union of Catholic Asian News, on 22 September, the police chief acknowledged that police engaged in violence and encouraged officers to maintain professionality to not provide any reasons for critics to use their actions to discredit the security forces. The response demonstrates Indonesian authorities’ determination to defuse controversy over the arrests to avoid losing the support of the local population.


Sources:

“Tangkap 5 Warga Sipil di Nduga, Polisi: Mereka Diduga Kuat Dukung KKB (Police Arrest 5 Civilians in Nduga: They Allegedly Strongly Support the KKB),” seputarpapua.com (Papua-based Indonesian-language media outlet claiming to provide the most current and accurate news from Papua), 18 September 2023. https://seputarpapua.com/view/tangkap-5-warga-sipil-di-nduga-polisi-mereka-diduga-kuat-dukung-kkb.html

Nduga Police Chief Commissioner Vinsensius Jimm, through the operational head, AKP Bayu Pratama Sudirno, confirmed the arrest of five civilians by personnel. The police suspect that the five civilians are KKB supporters in the area. “This is because of the perpetrators’ confessions regarding their participation [in KKB], which is supported by documentation such as photos on the confiscated cellphones,” stated the operational head in his written statement.

The arrests were made in one of the houses in the neighborhood behind the church. At the time of the arrest, there were attempts of resistance, such as locking the door from the inside to prevent the officers from entering, which resulted in a clash and attempts to push the officers when they were making the arrests…. The local community and congregation from several churches staged a protest. The protest focused on the government, and in this case the security forces, for actions that the public considers immoral.

Because of this, the Nduga police chief accompanied by the operational met directly with the Nduga regional secretary and the chairman of the DPRD to discuss the arrest process. [They] also met the families of the five individuals who were arrested as well as other residents at the house where the arrests were made.


“Indonesia police slammed for violent action inside church,ucanews.com (independent online Catholic news agency reporting on multiple Asian countries), 22 September 2023. https://www.ucanews.com/news/indonesia-police-slammed-for-violent-action-inside-church/102685

The Secretariat for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation of Jayapura Diocese and Papua Bureau of Union of Churches in Indonesia joined the coalition in condemning the incident and demanding action against the police personnel involved in the incident. Papua Police Chief Mathius Fakhiri said the five people were arrested because they had links to an armed criminal group, a term used by the Indonesian government for those fighting for Papuan independence. Fakhiri though admitted there “had been acts of violence by the police” and said he “had admonished the local police chief to act professionally.”


Notes:

[i] Data collected by Amnesty International Indonesia showed that at least 179 civilians, 35 Indonesian soldiers and nine police officers, as well as 23 Papuan insurgents were killed in clashes between the insurgents and security forces between 2018 and 2022. In contrast, a fewer 95 people were killed in the eight previous years from 2010 to 2018. See abc.net.au, “West Papua Liberation Army fighters linked with kidnapped pilot Phillip Mark Mehrtens killed in clash,” 2 October 2023. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-10-03/independence-fighters-killed-indonesia-papua-phillip-mehrtens/102927194. See also Amnesty, “Indonesia: Police and military unlawfully kill almost 100 people in Papua in eight years with near total impunity,” 2019. https://amnesty.org.nz/indonesia-police-and-military-unlawfully-kill-almost-100-people-papua-eight-years-near-total

[ii] Catholic and Protestant churches have long “played a leadership role through developing the ‘Papua Land of Peace’ campaign calling for dialogue, demilitarization and respect for human rights” in Papua. The churches also have been among the most critical and influential voices against Indonesian military activities in Papua and are seen as “representing the overwhelming majority of Papuan opinion.” Jason MacLeod, “The Struggle for Self-Determination in West Papua (1969-present),” International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, March 2011. https://www.nonviolent-conflict.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/West-Papua-1.pdf


Image Information:

Image:  A picture of Wamena, Papua, Indonesia, from 2019.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wamena,_Papua,_Indonesia_2019_21.jpg
Attribution: Spasimir Pilev, CC x 2.0


Pakistan Struggles In The Tri-Border Region After Multiple Terrorist Attacks

Location of the Mastung district in Balochistan, Pakistan.


“Recently, the insecurity and activities of militants have increased in different parts of Balochistan, and a number of security forces, government employees, and civilians have been killed in attacks and clashes.”


As attention turns to developing terrorism trends in other regions of the world, Pakistan has recently suffered a series of deadly suicide attacks in its Balochistan province. [i]

 According to the first excerpted article from the London-based, Afghan-run independent news outlet Afghanistan International, on 29 September, 59 people were killed, and more than 60 were injured, in a suicide attack during the Milad al-Nabi ceremony in Mastung, Balochistan. Milad al-Nabi is an important Muslim holiday celebrating the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.[ii] The Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP) quickly condemned the attack and denied responsibility, claiming they provided information to Pakistan’s intelligence agency before the bombing. While the TTP denied this bombing, the pro-Pashtun group has been responsible for multiple deadly attacks in the province, as well as the greater Balochistan region.[iii] No group has claimed responsibility for this attack, though Pakistan’s Acting Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti claimed India was involved.

The second excerpt from the Pashto language branch of Radio Free Europe, Mashal Radio, describes some of the complex issues that Pakistan’s Balochistan province is facing. In addition to TTP activity, the Islamic State (IS) and Baloch separatist groups like the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) have claimed responsibility for multiple recent attacks.[iv] Pakistan’s Counter Terrorism Department conducted kinetic operations in the area, killing a prominent IS member days before the bombing in Mastung. Hours after the Mastung attack, an additional suicide bombing was conducted in Doaba, a small city in the Hangu district of Pakistan. It is currently unclear whether the attacks are related. Recent attacks in Balochistan province – as well as the greater tri-border region – have created a delicate security situation. The Taliban, IS, and Baloch separatist groups conducting attacks in the same area make it difficult for counterterrorism units to combat them effectively and accurately attribute attacks to the appropriate groups. Although Pakistan has stepped up counterterrorism efforts in its own province, the larger Balochistan region is remote and challenging for each country to police. Terrorist groups can base their operations out of Afghanistan or Iran and conduct attacks in Pakistan, with little ability for Pakistan to conduct follow-up operations inside bordering nations. If these groups gain a permanent foothold in the greater Balochistan region, transnational groups could use the area to coordinate international attacks or further destabilize the relationship between Pakistan and India.


Sources:

“المرصاد: طالبانو د بلوچستان د برید په هکله له پاکستان سره معلومات شریک کړي وو

(Al-Mursad: The Taliban had shared information with Pakistan about the attack in Balochistan),” Afghanistan International (London based Afghan run independent news outlet), 1 October 2023. https://www.afintl.com/pa/202310018517

Al-Mursad, a website close to the Taliban, says that the group had shared the information about the Baluchistan attack and other similar attacks and the names of those involved with Pakistan’s intelligence…. The previous day, 59 people were killed and 60 were injured in a suicide attack on the Milad al-Nabi ceremony in Mastung, Balochistan. Pakistan’s Acting Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti said in Quetta yesterday that India is involved in the Balochistan attacks. But al-Mursad says, reliable evidence shows that Pakistan is carrying out the project of raising and strengthening ISIS as a proxy organization in Afghanistan and the region…. They [Al-Mursad] add in their report that Balochistan is considered a large and lawless area for ISIS in this country. Even before this, Daesh has claimed responsibility for some attacks in Balochistan, the last of which was Hafiz Ahmad, the leader of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, in Swabi last month. ISIS has not yet said anything about the Mustang attack.


Terin, Ayub, Majeed Babar, Shahin Buneri, Daud Khattak, “د مستونګ چاودنه کې لسګونه کسان وژل شوي دي

(Dozens of people were killed in the Mustang explosion),” Mashal Radio, 29 September 2023. https://www.mashaalradio.com/a/eid-miladunnabi-explosion-in-mastung-many-killed/32615419.html

[H]e did not say anything about the nature of the explosion, but the Reuters news agency quoted a police official, Munir Ahmed, as saying that the suicide bomber detonated near the “Madina Mosque” when people were attending the Milad ceremony. Achakzai said the government declared a state of emergency in the hospitals of Quetta after the incident…. A few hours after the explosion in Mastung, a number of people were killed in a suicide attack in Doaba, Hangu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation condemned the attacks in Doba and Mastung in a statement on September 20. The statement says that the organization’s Secretary General Hussain Ibrahim Taha condemns “any form of terrorism” and expresses “full support for Pakistan’s efforts in the fight against terrorism.” This is while 11 people, including the spokesman and former senator Hafiz Hamdullah,were injured in a bomb blast in Mastung on September 14. The police had said at that time that Hamdullah’s convoy was going towards the Mustang from Quetta when an explosion occurred at the checkpoint. The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the Mastung blast…. The Pakistani army has said that four soldiers were killed in a missile attack on a security post in Zhob. The Army Public Relations Office (ESPR) said in a statement that the attack took place on the evening of September 28. It has been claimed in the statement that the missile was sent by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants from Afghanistan, but that group and the Taliban government in Kabul have not yet said anything in response…. Recently, insecurity and activities of militants have increased in different parts of Balochistan and a number of security forces, government employees and civilians have been killed in attacks and clashes. On the 9th of September, six local football players were going from Dera Bugti to Sawai in a car to participate in the championship called “Al Pakistan Chief Minister Gold Cup” when armed men kidnapped them. Before this, a soldier was killed in two attacks on the traffic police and the Levies force in the afternoon of August 16…. On August 13, militants attacked the convoy of Chinese engineers in the port city of Gwadar, after which a clash with the security forces began….


Notes:

[i] Balochistan has been conquered and divided by multiple empires, gaining partial independence in the 18th century, and is now divided amongst three nations, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan—with other ethnic majorities. While not as commonly known as the Pashtun, Kurdish, or Punjabi people, the Baloch are ethnically, linguistically, and historically unique. Years of subjugation and marginalization – along with its remote and sparsely populated geographic location – have contributed to the fragile state of the region, allowing nationalist and radical Islamist groups to further destabilize the province through violence. For more information on the history of the Balochistan region, see: Mickey Kupecz. “Pakistan’s Baloch Insurgency: History, Conflict Drivers, and Regional Implications,” The International Affairs Review, 16 May 2012. https://www.iar-gwu.org/print-archive/8er0x982v5pj129srhre98ex6u8v8n

[ii] For more information on the Mawlid al-Nabi celebration, see: “Birthday of the Prophet: Mawlid al-Nabi,” The Pluralism Project – Harvard University, 2020. https://pluralism.org/birthday-of-the-prophet-mawlid-al-nabi

[iii] For additional background information on Tehrik-E Taliban Pakistan, see: “Tehrik-E Taliban Pakistan (TTP),” Office of the Director of National Intelligence. https://www.dni.gov/nctc/groups/ttp.html

 [iv] For additional information on the Balochistan Liberation Army, see: “Balochistan Liberation Army,” Stanford Center for International Security and Cooperation, Updated 2019. https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/mappingmilitants/profiles/balochistan-liberation-army


Image Information:

Image: Location of the Mastung district in Balochistan, Pakistan.
Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/39/Pakistan_-_Balochistan_-_Mastung.svg/1172px-Pakistan_-_Balochistan_-_Mastung.svg.png?20211017045741
Attribution: CC-BY-SA-4.0


Maduro Regime Claims Victory Over Tren de Aragua Criminal Network

The aftermath of a deadly prison riot in Lara state, Venezuela in 2013.


“Its fugitive leader, “El Niño” Guerrero, benefited from complicity and even negotiated with the government to leave the prison before the security operation began, according to the NGO Venezuelan Prison Observatory.”


The Maduro regime in Venezuela recently conducted a military operation in the Tocorón prison, the power center of the transnational Tren de Aragua criminal network.[i] According to the excerpted article from the Argentine outlet Infobae, the regime uncovered a large stockpile of weapons and munitions at the prison, including anti-tank launchers, artillery rockets, and a cache of rifles and pistols. Additionally, the article reports that prisoners controlled a small town where family members lived, replete with amenities such as a pool, baseball stadium, and zoo. This level of criminal control is common in Venezuela, where the Maduro regime has relied on prison gang leaders, called “pranes,” to maintain a semblance of stability and control, and to reduce violent prison uprisings.[ii] In exchange, groups like the Tren de Aragua possess a high degree of autonomy within prison walls to continue criminal activity. In reasserting state control over the Tocorón prison, the Maduro regime claims to have defeated Tren de Aragua, as reported by Colombia’s center-left daily El Espectador. There are many reasons to doubt this claim notably, Tren de Aragua’s leader, Héctor Guerrero Flórez (alias “Niño Guerrero”), escaped before the raid with forewarning about an impending operation. Despite this, the Maduro regime’s military operation is significant for a few reasons. First, it allows the Maduro regime to claim that it is addressing the complaints of its neighbors in the region, who have openly fretted about the regional growth of the Tren de Aragua criminal network. Second, the operation could pay domestic dividends as the Maduro regime seeks to convince voters that it is tackling the country’s security crisis ahead of the anticipated elections in the latter half of 2024. Lastly, the regime’s recent operation serves as an important testing ground for the strength of its security forces, which it may resort to using to suppress any opposition mobilization in 2024.[iii]


Sources:

“El sorprendente interior del penal de Tocorón, el centro de operaciones del Tren de Aragua en Venezuela (The surprising interior of the Tocorón prison, the operations center of the Tren de Aragua in Venezuela),” Infobae (Argentine outlet with excellent regional coverage), 27 September 2023. https://www.infobae.com/venezuela/2023/09/27/el-sorprendente-interior-del-penal-de-tocoron-el-centro-de-operaciones-del-tren-de-aragua-en-venezuela/

More than 11,000 members of the security forces occupied the prison controlled by this gang that has spread its tentacles to several Latin American countries…There was tranquility, there was a swimming pool, a zoo…Its fugitive leader, “El Niño” Guerrero, benefited from complicity and even negotiated with the government to leave the prison before the security operation began, according to the NGO Venezuelan Prison Observatory.


“Gobierno de Maduro dice que el temido Tren de Aragua fue desmantelado ‘totalmente’ (Maduro’s government says that the feared Tren de Aragua was ‘completely’ dismantled),” El Espectador (Colombia’s center-left daily), 23 September 2023. https://www.elespectador.com/mundo/gobierno-de-maduro-dice-que-el-temido-tren-de-aragua-fue-desmantelado-totalmente/

We have total control of this prison, of this penitentiary center, and, in addition to that, we have completely dismantled the self-proclaimed former Tren de Aragua. We have 88 people detained at this moment, providing information of interest, all members of that group, which was abandoned by those who led it,” said the Minister of the Interior of Venezuela, Remigio Ceballos, when presenting a balance of the operation…Ceballos denied that the government had negotiated with the leaders of this gang dedicated to, among other crimes, kidnapping, extortion, drug trafficking, and human trafficking.


Notes:

[i] For more information on Tren de Aragua, its origin, and its historical evolution from railway construction union to criminal organization, see this excellent and comprehensive profile of the group; “Tren de Aragua,” InSight Crime, 12 May 2020. https://insightcrime.org/venezuela-organized-crime-news/tren-de-aragua/

[ii] The history of pranes, or leaders of prison gangs in Venezuela, is complex. For a condensed version of this history, see; Marie Metz, “Venezuelan Prisons and the Power of Pranes,” Foreign Policy Association blog, 15 October 2012. https://foreignpolicyblogs.com/2012/10/15/venezuelan-prisons-and-the-power-of-pranes/

[iii] For more information on the idea that the Maduro regime may be testing the security forces in anticipation of the 2024 election season, see; Ryan C. Berg and Henry Ziemer, “The Only Threat of Violence in Venezuela’s Opposition Primaries Comes from the Regime,” Center for Strategic & International Studies, 17 October 2023. https://www.csis.org/analysis/only-threat-violence-venezuelas-opposition-primaries-comes-regime


Image Information:

Image: The aftermath of a deadly prison riot in Lara state, Venezuela in 2013.
Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/diariocriticove/8422860917
Attribution: CC BY 2.0 DEED


North African Wave of Support For Palestinians At Onset Of Israel-Hamas War

Tunisians protest in support of Palestine in 2021. Since the Hamas attack on Israel in October, North African civil societies have shown a wave of support for Palestine.


“President Tebboune [of Algeria] reiterated to the Palestinian President, ‘the unwavering solidarity of Algeria, both people and government, with the brotherly Palestinian people.’”


Civil societies across North Africa have shown staunch solidarity with the Palestinian cause in response to Israeli retaliation for the 7 October attack by Hamas. The first article from the pan-African news aggregator AfricaNews.fr, provides a broad overview of the pro-Palestinian reactions emanating from Morocco, Libya, and Algeria. Namely, it underscores how civil societies have demonstrated in support of Palestine, and in the case of Morocco,[i] and to a lesser extent, Libya,[ii] have used the conflict to call for the cessation of their states’ efforts to normalize relations with Israel. The protests also denounce the role of the United States and France in the conflict. As per the second article, also from AfricaNews.fr, Tunisians gathered to show support for Palestinians, similarly seeking to penalize their own state for its efforts for rapprochement with Israel. The third article from the Algerian government-owned Algeria Press Service emphasizes the unanimity between Algeria’s government and its citizens on the issue. While protestors in Morocco, Libya, and Tunisia sought to punish their leaders for would-be softening stances towards Israel, in Algeria, President Tebboune faced no such backlash. In a call with Mahmoud Abas, the President of the State of Palestine, he underscored, “the unwavering solidarity of Algeria, both people and government, with the brotherly Palestinian people.”


Sources:

“Manifestations pro-palestiniennes dans plusieurs pays arabes (Pro-Palestinian protests in several Arab countries),” AfricaNews.fr (pan-African news aggregator), 14 October 2023. https://fr.africanews.com/2023/10/14/manifestations-pro-palestiniennes-dans-plusieurs-pays-arabes/

Pro-Palestinian rallies, both organized and spontaneous, in response to the conflict between Israel and Gaza-based militant groups have taken the MENA region by storm. In North Africa, demonstrators gathered in Algeria, Libya, and Morocco to show support in favour of Palestine.

“The entire Algerian people are in solidarity with the Palestinian people and stand by their side. The Palestinian people are in distress and need the support of the Arab and Muslim communities,” shared Khaled Sofiane, pro-Palestinian protester in Algeria.

Despite, Morocco’s normalized ties with Israel in exchange for U.S. recognition of its sovereignty over the long-disputed Western Sahara territory, Prince Moulay Hicham El Alaoui, cousin to the Moroccan monarch, has voiced his support for Palestine on social media.

Thousands of Moroccans also protested to ask the government puts an end to the normalization.

“This is a call to the Moroccan state to stop normalization. An appeal to Morocco, which chairs the Jerusalem Committee, to act urgently, to close the liaison office with Israel. And to withdraw from all agreements. This is what Moroccan people demand today,” expressed Rachid Fellouli, pro-Palestinian protester in Morocco.

In Libya, the 5 El- Emad towers illuminated in the colors of the Palestinian flag in support.

The Libyan government has always publicly sided with Palestine and has not recognized Israel. A couple of months ago, Libya’s head of diplomacy was suspended for meeting with her Israeli counterpart. The news of the encounter had created unrest in the already unstable country.


“Guerre Israël-Hamas: des Tunisiens manifestent pour les Palestiniens (Israel-Hamas War: Tunisians protest for Palestinians),” AfricaNews.fr (pan-African news aggregator), 13 October 2023. https://fr.africanews.com/2023/10/13/guerre-israel-hamas-des-tunisiens-manifestent-pour-les-palestiniens/

Thousands of trade unionists, civil society representatives, political activists, lawyers and high school students demonstrated in the centre of Tunis on Thursday in support of the Palestinian people and called for the criminalisation of any normalisation of relations with Israel.

Denouncing the Israeli strikes against the Gaza Strip, the demonstrators, brandishing the Palestinian flag, gathered in front of the headquarters of the trade union centre, the UGTT, before marching to Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the main thoroughfare in the city centre, AFP journalists observed.

“The people want to penalise normalisation” with Israel, chanted the demonstrators, angry at “Zionist crimes” and “international silence on the genocide in Gaza”, the Palestinian enclave.

The demonstrators also denounced the support of France and the United States for Israel, which had become “allies in the attack on the Palestinians”.


“Algeria: President Tebboune Receives Phone Call From President of State of Palestine,” Algeria Press Service (government-owned news service from Algeria), 9 October 2023. https://allafrica.com/stories/202310090525.html

President of the Republic, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, has received a phone call from his brother the President of the occupied State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, the presidency of the Republic said on Monday.

Abbas informed the president of the Republic “about the grave abuses committed by the occupying forces against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank,” the statement said.

President Tebboune reiterated, to the Palestinian President, “the unwavering solidarity of Algeria, both people and government, with the brotherly Palestinian people.”He stressed that “these developments remind everyone that a just and comprehensive peace, as a strategic choice, can only be achieved by establishing an independent, sovereign Palestinian State.”


Notes:

[i] For more on the Israel-Morocco normalization pact of 2020, see: “Israel, Morocco agree to normalise relations in US-brokered deal,” Al-Jazeera, 10 December 2020. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/12/10/israel-morocco-agree-to-normalise-relations-in-us-brokered-deal

[ii] While Libya has never formally recognized Israel, protests erupted in Libya in August 2023 when Israel revealed that Libya’s Foreign Minister, Najla Mangoush, had met with Israeli representatives. Mangoush was subsequently suspended and fled the country. For more, see: Sam Magdy, “Libya’s foreign minister suspended, flees country after meeting with Israel’s top diplomat,” Associated Press, 28 August 2023. https://apnews.com/article/libya-israel-meeting-normalization-arab-world-62d6d37df1838ecba9a604e80b675733


Image Information:

Image: Tunisians protest in support of Palestine in 2021. Since the Hamas attack on Israel in October, North African civil societies have shown a wave of support for Palestine.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Protest_for_palestine_Tunis_Kassba_17-05-2021_By_Brahim_Guedich-3582.jpg
Attribution: BY-SA 4.0