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Stratfor: The Israeli Periphery

By Reva Bhalla
Vice President of Global Affairs
Stratfor Global Intelligence

The state of Israel has a basic, inescapable geopolitical dilemma: Its national security requirements outstrip its military capabilities, making it dependent on an outside power. Not only must that power have significant military capabilities but it also must have enough common ground with Israel to align its foreign policy toward the Arab world with that of Israel’s. These are rather heavy requirements for such a small nation.

Security, in the Israeli sense, is thus often characterized in terms of survival. And for Israel to survive, it needs just the right blend of geopolitical circumstance, complex diplomatic arrangements and military preparedness to respond to potential threats nearby. Over the past 33 years, a sense of complacency settled over Israel and gave rise to various theories that it could finally overcome its dependency on outside powers. But a familiar sense of unease crept back into the Israeli psyche before any of those arguments could take root. A survey of the Israeli periphery in Egypt, Syria and Jordan explains why.

Maintaining the Sinai Buffer

To Israel’s southwest lies the Sinai Desert. This land is economically useless; only hardened Bedouins who sparsely populate the desert expanse consider the terrain suitable for living. This makes the Sinai an ideal buffer. Its economic lifelessness gives it extraordinary strategic importance in keeping the largest Arab army — Egypt’s — at a safe distance from Israeli population centers. It is the maintenance of this buffer that forms the foundation of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

The question percolating in Israeli policy circles is whether an Islamist Egypt will give the same level of importance to this strategic buffer. The answer to that question rests with the military, an institution that has formed the backbone of the Egyptian state since the rise of Gamel Abdul Nasser in 1952.

Achieving National Security in the Periphery

Over the past month, the military’s role in this new Muslim Brotherhood-run Egypt quietly revealed itself. The first test came in the form of the Gaza crisis, when the military quietly negotiated security guarantees with Israel while the Muslim Brotherhood basked in the diplomatic spotlight. The second test came when Egypt’s Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, attempted a unilateral push on a constitutional draft to institutionalize the Muslim Brotherhood’s hold on power.

The military bided its time, waiting for the protests to escalate to the point that rioters began targeting the presidential palace. By then, it was apparent that the police were not to be fully relied on to secure the streets. Morsi had no choice but to turn to the military for help, and that request revealed how indispensable the military is for Egyptian stability.

There will be plenty of noise and confusion in the lead-up to the Dec. 15 referendum as the secular, anti-Muslim Brotherhood civilian opposition continues its protests against Morsi. But filter through that noise, and one can see that the military and the Muslim Brotherhood appear to be adjusting slowly to a new order of Nasserite-Islamist rule. Unlike the 1979 peace treaty, this working arrangement between the military and the Islamists is alive and temperamental. Israel can find some comfort in seeing that the military remains central to the stability of the Egyptian state and will thus likely play a major role in protecting the Sinai buffer. However, merely observing this dance between the military and the Islamists from across the desert is enough to unnerve Israel and justify a more pre-emptive military posture on the border.

Defending Galilee

Israel lacks a good buffer to its north. The most natural, albeit imperfect, line of defense is the Litani River in modern-day Lebanon, with a second line of defense between Mount Hermon and the Sea of Galilee. Modern-day Israel encompasses this second barrier, a hilly area that has been the target of sporadic mortar shelling from Syrian government forces in pursuit of Sunni rebels.

Israel does not face a conventional military threat to its north, nor will it for some time. But the descent of the northern Levant into sectarian-driven, clan-based warfare presents a different kind of threat on Israel’s northern frontier.

It is only a matter of time before Alawite forces will have to retreat from Damascus and defend themselves against a Sunni majority from their coastal enclave. The conflict will necessarily subsume Lebanon, and the framework that Israel has relied on for decades to manage more sizable, unconventional threats like Hezbollah will come undone.

Somewhere along the way, there will be an internationally endorsed attempt to prop up a provisional government and maintain as much of the state machinery as possible to avoid the scenario of a post-U.S. invasion Iraq. But when decades-old, sectarian-driven vendettas are concerned, there is cause for pessimism in judging the viability of those plans. Israel cannot avoid thinking in terms of worst-case scenarios, so it will continue to reinforce its northern defenses ahead of more instability.

Neutralizing the Jordan River Valley

The status of the Jordan River Valley is essential to Israel’s sense of security to the east. So long as Israel can dominate the west bank of the river (the biblical area of Judea and Samaria, or the modern-day West Bank) then it can overwhelm indigenous forces from the desert farther east. To keep this arrangement intact, Israel will somehow attempt to politically neutralize whichever power controls the east bank of the Jordan River. In the post-Ottoman Middle East, this power takes the form of the Hashemite monarchs, who were transplanted from Arabia by the British.

The vulnerability that the Hashemites felt as a foreign entity in charge of economically lackluster terrain created ideal conditions for Israel to protect its eastern approach. The Hashemites had to devise complex political arrangements at home to sustain the monarchy in the face of left-wing Nasserist, Palestinian separatist and Islamist militant threats. The key to Hashemite survival was in aligning with the rural East Bank tribes, co-opting the Palestinians and cooperating with Israel in security issues to keep its western frontier calm. In short, the Hashemites were vulnerable enough for Israel to be considered a useful security partner but not so vulnerable that Israel couldn’t rely on the regime to protect its eastern approach. There was a level of tension that was necessary to maintain the strategic partnership, but that level of tension had to remain within a certain band.

That arrangement is now under considerable stress. The Hashemites are facing outright calls for deposition from the same tribal East Bankers, Palestinians and Islamists that for decades formed the foundation of the state. That is because the state itself is weakening under the pressure of high oil prices, now sapping at the subsidies that have been relied on to tame the population.

One could assume that Jordan’s oil-rich Gulf Arab neighbors would step in to defend one of the region’s remaining monarchies of the post-Ottoman order against a rising tide of Muslim Brotherhood-led Islamism with heavily subsidized energy sales. However, a still-bitter, age-old geopolitical rivalry between the Hejaz-hailing Hashemite dynasty and the Nejd-hailing Saudi dynasty over supremacy in Arabia is getting in the way. From across the Gulf, an emboldened Iran is already trying to exploit this Arab tension by cozying up to the Hashemites with subsidized energy sales to extend Tehran’s reach into the West Bank and eventually threaten Israel. Jordan has publicly warded off Iran’s offer, and significant logistical challenges may inhibit such cooperation. But ongoing negotiations between Iran’s allies in Baghdad and the Jordanian regime bear close watching as Jordan’s vulnerabilities continue to rise at home.

Powerful Partners Abroad

In this fluctuating strategic environment, Israel cannot afford to be isolated politically. Its need for a power patron will grow alongside its insecurities in its periphery. Israel’s current patron, the United States, is also grappling with the emerging Islamist order in the region. But in this new regional dynamic, the United States will eventually look past ideology in search of partners to help manage the region. As U.S.-Turkish relations in recent years and the United States’ recent interactions with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood reveal, it will be an awkward and bumpy experience while Washington tries to figure out who holds the reins of power and which brand of Islamists it can negotiate with amid messy power transitions. This is much harder for Israel to do independently by virtue of ideology, size and location.

Israel’s range of maneuver in foreign policy will narrow considerably as it becomes more dependent on external powers and as its interests clash with those of its patrons. Israel is in store for more discomfort in its decision-making and more creativity in its diplomacy. The irony is that while Israel is a western-style democracy, it was most secure in an age of Arab dictatorships. As those dictatorships give way to weak and in some cases crumbling states, Israeli survival instincts will again be put to the test.
 
The Israeli Periphery is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

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Stratfor: Al Assad’s Last Stand

By Omar Lamrani

The battle for Damascus is raging with increasing intensity while rebels continue to make substantial advances in Syria’s north and east. Every new air base, city or town that falls to the rebels further underlines that Bashar al Assad’s writ over the country is shrinking. It is no longer possible to accurately depict al Assad as the ruler of Syria. At this point, he is merely the head of a large and powerful armed force, albeit one that still controls a significant portion of the country.

The nature of the conflict has changed significantly since it began nearly two years ago. The rebels initially operated with meager resources and equipment, but bolstered by defections, some outside support and their demographic advantage, they have managed to gain ground on what was previously a far superior enemy. Even the regime’s qualitative superiority in equipment is fast eroding as the rebels start to frequently utilize main battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, rocket and tube artillery and even man-portable air-defense systems captured from the regime’s stockpiles.

Weary and stumbling, the regime is attempting to push back rebel forces in and near Damascus and to maintain a corridor to the Alawite coast while delaying rebel advances in the rest of the country. Al Assad and his allies will fight for every inch, fully aware that their power depends on the ability of the regime forces to hold ground.

The Battle for Damascus

It is important to remember that, despite considerable setbacks, al Assad’s forces still control a sizable portion of Syria and its population centers. After failing to take Damascus in Operation Damascus Volcano in July, the rebels are again stepping up their efforts and operations in the Damascus area. However, unlike in their previous failed operation, this time the rebels are relying on an intensive guerrilla campaign to exhaust and degrade al Assad’s substantial forces in Damascus and its countryside.

After the last surge in fighting around Damascus in July and August, the regime kept large numbers of troops in the area. These forces continued search and destroy operations near the capital despite the considerable pressure facing its forces in the rest of the country, including in Aleppo. Once the rebels began to make gains in the north and east, the regime was forced to dispatch some of its forces around Damascus to reinforce other fronts. Unfortunately for the regime, its operations in the capital area had not significantly degraded local rebel forces. Rebels in the area began intensifying their operations once more, forcing the regime to recall many of its units to Damascus.

Aware of the magnitude of the threat, the regime has reportedly shifted its strategy in the battle for Damascus to isolating the city proper from the numerous suburbs. The rebels have made considerable headway in the Damascus suburbs. For example, on Nov. 25 rebels overran the Marj al-Sultan military air base in eastern Ghouta, east of the capital. Rebel operations in the outskirts of Damascus have also interrupted the flow of goods to and from the city, causing the prices of basic staples such as bread to skyrocket.

Rebel Gains in the East and North

Damascus is not the only area where the regime is finding itself under considerable pressure. The rebels have made some major advances in the last month in the energy-rich Deir el-Zour governorate to the east. Having seized a number of towns, airfields and military bases, the rebels have also taken the majority of the oil fields in the governorate. They captured the Al-Ward oil field Nov. 4, the Conoco natural gas reserve Nov. 27 and, after al Assad’s forces withdrew from it on Nov. 29, the Omar oil field north of the town of Mayadeen. Al Assad’s forces now control only five oil fields, all located west of the city of Deir el-Zour. With the battle for the city and its associated airfield intensifying, even those remaining fields are at risk of falling into rebel hands.

The rebel successes in Deir el-Zour have effectively cut the regime’s ground lines of communication and supply to Iraq. They have also starved the regime of the vast majority of its oil revenue and affected its ability to fuel its war machine. At the same time, the rebels are reportedly already seeking to capitalize on their seizure of the eastern oil fields. According to reports, the rebels are smuggling oil to Turkey and Iraq and using the revenue to purchase arms. They are also reportedly using the oil and natural gas locally for power generators and fuel.

While all of eastern Syria may soon fall into rebel hands, rebels in the north have continued to isolate al Assad forces in Idlib and Aleppo governorates, particularly in the capital cities of those two provinces. After overrunning the 46th regiment near Atarib on Nov. 19 following a two-month siege, the rebels are now looking to further squeeze remaining regime forces in Aleppo by taking the Sheikh Suleiman base north of the 46th regiment’s former base.

The Rebels’ Improved Air Defense Capability

Isolated and surrounded, regime forces in the north are increasingly relying on air support for both defense and supply. However, this advantage is deteriorating every day and is increasingly threatened by the rebels’ improved air defense arsenal and tactics.

The rebels first attempted to acquire air defense weaponry by seizing heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft artillery. They captured a number of air defense bases, taking 12.7 mm DShK heavy machine guns, 14.5 mm KPV heavy machine guns and even 23 mm ZU-23-2 autocannons. Over time, the rebels became more proficient with these weapons, and an increasing number of Syrian air force fixed-wing and rotary aircraft were shot down. The rebels also formed hunter-killer groups with air defense equipment mounted on flatbed trucks that provided them mobile platforms for targeting regime air and infantry units.

As more and more regime bases were taken, the rebels were able to bolster their air defense equipment through the capture of a number of man-portable air-defense systems. At the outset of the conflict, the Syrian military maintained a large inventory of shoulder-fired air-defense missiles, likely thousands of missiles ranging from early generation SA-7s to very advanced SA-24s. These missiles were stored in army bases across the country. There are also unconfirmed reports that Qatar and Saudi Arabia may have transferred some man-portable air-defense systems to the rebels through Turkey.

The rebels tallied their first confirmed kill with shoulder-fired air-defense missiles Nov. 27, when they shot down a Syrian Arab Air Force Mi-8/17 helicopter near Aleppo city. The weapon system used in the attack was likely an SA-7, SA-16 or SA-24 captured from the 46th regiment. The surface-to-air missiles are a serious upgrade in the rebels’ air defense capability.

The Fight Continues

Having isolated al Assad’s forces in the north and made substantial advances in the east, the rebels are poised to push farther into the Orontes River Valley to relieve the beleaguered rebel units in the Rastan, Homs and al-Qusayr areas of Homs governorate. For months, regime forces have sought to overwhelm the remaining rebel forces in Homs city, but the rebels have managed to hold out. The rebels are also set to begin pushing south along the main M5 thoroughfare to Khan Sheikhoun and the approaches to Hama. However, first they need to overwhelm the remaining regime forces in Wadi al-Dhaif near Maarrat al-Numan.

Alternatively, the regime is fighting hard to maintain its control over the Orontes River Valley around Homs in order to keep an open corridor linking Damascus to the mostly Alawite coast. Not only is this corridor at risk of eventually being cut off, but the regime is also facing a substantial push by rebel forces into northeastern Latakia governorate from Idlib. Rebels have advanced in the vicinity of the Turkman Mountain, have taken control of Bdama and are now fighting their way down in the direction of Latakia city.

While events in Damascus and Rif Damascus are increasingly worrisome for the regime, al Assad’s forces in the rest of Syria are also under considerable pressure from rebel advances. It is by no means certain that al Assad’s forces are under imminent threat of collapse because they still hold a great deal of territory and no major city has yet been completely taken by the rebels. The retreat and consolidation of al Assad’s forces also allows them to maintain shorter and less vulnerable lines of supply. However, it is clear that the regime is very much on the defensive and has been forced to gradually contract its lines toward a core that now encompasses Damascus, the Orontes River Valley and the mostly Alawite coast. With the regime’s situation rapidly deteriorating, even the attempt to stage a gradual withdrawal to the core is risky.
 
Al Assad’s Last Stand is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

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Stratfor: Egypt and the Strategic Balance

By George Friedman
Founder, Chief Executive Officer
Stratfor Global Intelligence

Immediately following the declaration of a cease-fire in Gaza, Egypt was plunged into a massive domestic crisis. Mohammed Morsi, elected in the first presidential election after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, passed a decree that would essentially neuter the independent judiciary by placing his executive powers above the high court and proposed changes to the constitution that would institutionalize the Muslim Brotherhood’s power. Following the decree, Morsi’s political opponents launched massive demonstrations that threw Egypt into domestic instability and uncertainty.

In the case of most countries, this would not be a matter of international note. But Egypt is not just another country. It is the largest Arab country and one that has been the traditional center of the Arab world. Equally important, if Egypt’s domestic changes translate into shifts in its foreign policy, it could affect the regional balance of power for decades to come.

Morsi’s Challenge to the Nasserite Model

The Arab Spring was seen by some observers to be a largely secular movement aimed at establishing constitutional democracy. The problem with this theory was that while the demonstrators might have had the strength to force an election, it was not certain that the secular constitutionalists would win it. They didn’t. Morsi is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and while there were numerous claims that he was a moderate member, it was simply not understood that he was a man of conviction and honor and that his membership in the Brotherhood was not casual or frivolous. His intention was to strengthen the role of Islam in Egypt and the control of the Muslim Brotherhood over the various arms of state. His rhetoric, speed and degree of Islamism might have been less extreme than others, but his intent was clear.

The move on the judiciary signaled his intent to begin consolidating power. It galvanized opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood, which included secular constitutionalists, Copts and other groups who formed a coalition that was prepared to take to the streets to oppose his move. What it did not include, or at least did not visibly include through this point, was the Egyptian military, which refused to be drawn in on either side.

The Egyptian military, led by a young army officer named Gamal Abdel Nasser, founded the modern Egyptian state when it overthrew the British-supported monarchy in the 1950s. It created a state that was then secular, authoritarian and socialist. It aligned Egypt with the Soviet Union and against the United States through the 1970s. After the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who was later assassinated by Islamists, shifted Egypt into an alliance with the United States and signed a peace treaty with Israel.

This treaty was the foundation of the regional balance of power until now. The decision to end the state of war with Israel and use Sinai as a demilitarized buffer between the two countries eliminated the threat of nation-to-nation war between Arabs and Israel. Egypt was the most powerful Arab country and its hostility to Israel represented Israel’s greatest threat. By withdrawing from confrontation, the threat to Israel declined dramatically. Jordan, Syria and Lebanon did not represent a significant threat to Israel and could not launch a war that threatened Israel’s survival.

Egypt’s decision to align with the United States and make peace with Israel shaped the regional balance of power in other ways. Syria could no longer depend on Egypt, and ultimately turned to Iran for support. The Arab monarchies that had been under political and at times military pressure from Egypt were relieved of the threat, and the Soviets lost the Egyptian bases that had given them a foothold in the Mediterranean.

The fundamental question in Egypt is whether the election of Morsi represented the end of the regime founded by Nasser or was simply a passing event, with power still in the hands of the military. Morsi has made a move designed to demonstrate his power and to change the way the Egyptian judiciary works. The uprising against this move, while significant, did not seem to have the weight needed either to force Morsi to do more than modify his tactics a bit or to threaten his government. Therefore, it all hangs on whether the military is capable of or interested in intervening.

It is ironic that the demands of the liberals in Egypt should depend on military intervention, and it is unlikely that they will get what they want from the military if it does intervene. But what is clear is that the Muslim Brotherhood is the dominant force in Egypt, that Morsi is very much a member of the Brotherhood and while his tactics might be more deliberate and circumspect than more radical members might want, it is still headed in the same direction.

For the moment, the protesters in the streets do not appear able to force Morsi’s hand, and the military doesn’t seem likely to intervene. If that is true, then Egypt has entered a new domestic era with a range of open foreign policy issues. The first is the future of the treaty with Israel. The issue is not the treaty per se, but the maintenance of Sinai as a buffer. One of the consequences of Mubarak’s ouster has been the partial remilitarization of Sinai by Egypt, with Israel’s uneasy support. Sinai has become a zone in which Islamist radicals are active and launch operations against Israel. The Egyptian military has moved into Sinai to suppress them, which Israel obviously supports. But the Egyptians have also established the principle that while Sinai may be a notional buffer zone, in practice the Egyptian military can be present in and responsible for it. The intent might be one that Israel supports but the outcome could be a Sinai remilitarized by the Egyptians.

A remilitarized Sinai would change the strategic balance, but it would only be the beginning. The Egyptian army uses American equipment and depends on the United States for spare parts, maintenance and training. Its equipment is relatively old and it has not been tested in combat for nearly 40 years. Even if the Egyptian military was in Sinai, it would not pose a significant conventional military threat to Israel in its current form. These things can change, however. The transformation of the Egyptian army between 1967 and 1973 was impressive. The difference is that Egypt had a patron in the Soviet Union then that was prepared to underwrite the cost of the transformation. Today, there is no global power, except the United States, that would be capable of dramatically and systematically upgrading the Egyptian military and financially supporting the country overall. Still, if the Morsi government succeeds in institutionalizing its power and uses that power to change the dynamic of the Sinai buffer, Israel will lose several layers of security.

A New Regional Alignment?

A look at the rest of the region shows that Egypt is by no means the only country of concern for Israel. Syria, for example, has an uprising that, in simple terms, largely consists of Sunnis, many of which are Islamists. That in itself represents a threat to Israel, particularly if the relationship between Syria and Egypt were revived. There is an ideological kinship, and just as Nasserism had an evangelical dimension, wanting to spread pan-Arab ideology throughout the region, the Muslim Brotherhood has one too. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is also the most organized and coherent opposition group in Syria. As Morsi consolidates his power in Egypt, his willingness to engage in foreign adventures, or at least covert support, for like-minded insurgents and regimes could very well increase. At a minimum Israel would have to take this seriously. Similarly, where Gaza was contained not only by Israel but also by pre-Morsi Egypt, Morsi might choose to dramatically change Egypt’s Gaza policy.

Morsi’s rise opens other possibilities as well. Turkey’s Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party is also engaged in a careful process of reintroducing Islam into a state that was militantly secular. There are fundamental differences between Egypt and Turkey, but there is also much in common. Turkey and Egypt are now engaged in parallel processes designed to create modern countries that recognize their Islamic roots. A Turkish-Egyptian relationship would both undergird the Egyptian regime and create a regional force that could shape the Eastern Mediterranean.

This would, of course, affect American strategy, which as we have said in the past, is now rapidly moving away from excessive involvement in the Middle East. It is not clear how far Morsi would go in breaking with the United States or whether the military would or could draw a line at that point. Egypt is barely skirting economic disaster at the moment because it is receiving a broad range of financial aid from the West. Moving away from the United States would presumably go well beyond military aid and affect these other types of economic assistance.

The fact is that as Egypt gradually evolves, its relationship with the United States might also change. The United States’ relationship with Turkey has changed but has not broken since the Justice and Development Party came to power, with Turkey following a more independent direction. If a similar process occurred in Egypt, the United States would find itself in a very different position in the Eastern Mediterranean, one in which its only ally was Israel, and its relationship with Israel might alienate the critical Turkey-Egypt bloc.

Prior to 1967, the United States was careful not be become overly involved in protecting Israel, leaving that to France. Assuming that this speculation about a shift in Egypt’s strategic posture came to pass, Israel would not be in serious military danger for quite a while, and the United States could view its support to Israel as flexible. The United States could conceivably choose to distance itself from Israel in order to maintain its relationships with Egypt and Turkey. A strategy of selective disengagement and redefined engagement, which appears to be under way in the United States now, could alter relations with Israel.

From an Israeli point of view — it should be remembered that Israel is the dominant power in the region — a shift in Egypt would create significant uncertainty on its frontier. It would now face uncertainty in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, and while unlikely, the possibility of uncertainty in Jordan. Where previously it faced hostile powers with substantial military capabilities, it would now face weaker powers that are less predictable. However, in an age when Israel’s primary concern is with terrorist actions and uprisings in Gaza and the West Bank, this band of uncertainty would be an incubator of such actions.

The worst-case scenario is the re-emergence of confrontational states on its border, armed with conventional weapons and capable of challenging the Israeli military. That is not an inconceivable evolution but it is not a threat in the near term. The next-worst-case scenario would be the creation of multiple states on Israel’s border prepared to sponsor or at least tolerate Islamist attacks on Israel from their territory and to underwrite uprisings among the Palestinians. The effect would be an extended, wearying test of Israel’s ability to deal with unremitting low-intensity threats from multiple directions.

Conventional war is hard to imagine. It is less difficult to imagine a shift in Egyptian policy that creates a sustained low-intensity conflict not only south of Israel, but also along the entire Israeli periphery as Egypt’s influence is felt. It is fairly clear that Israel has not absorbed the significance of this change or how it will respond. It may well not have a response. But if that were the case, then Israel’s conventional dominance would no longer define the balance of power. And the United States is entering a period of unpredictability in its foreign policy. The entire region becomes unpredictable.

It is not clear that any of this will come to pass. Morsi might not be able to impose his will in the country. He may not survive politically. The Egyptian military might intervene directly or indirectly. There are several hurdles for Morsi to overcome before he controls the country, and his timeline might be extended for implementing changes. But for the moment, Morsi appears in charge, he seems to be weathering the challenges and the army has not moved. Therefore, considering the strategic consequences is appropriate, and those strategic consequences appear substantial.

Egypt and the Strategic Balance is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

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The Russian Veto

Syria to Russia: If Assad goes down, his state secrets (along with those of his father) will almost certainly become exposed; the degree to which this will compromise the variously held secrecies of Russia and other former Soviet states is unknown and probably unknowable.

Russia to China: Let’s work together to stop western adventurism in Eurasia.

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The Floating Cookie Jar

…and whose hand was caught inside it?

FrancopPaperwork aboard the German-owned, Antiguan-flagged container ship ‘Francop’ shows the origin of some of its arms containers to be the Iranian port of Bandar-Abbas, contradicting the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem’s assertion that the ship was carrying commercial goods from Syria to Iran.

The minister was also contradicted by an official spokesman for the Lebanese militant organisation Hezbollah, who declared that the group “…staunchly denies any link to the weapons that the Zionist enemy has seized from the Francop ship.” Additionally, Lebanese Minister Michel Aoun announced that if they couldn’t get weapons from Iran, then they’d get them from China.

The weapons were hidden behind bags of Iranian-made silicon, with some of the arms cases being labeled ‘PARTS OF BULLDOZER’ and listed on the ship’s manifest as ‘aerosols’ destined for the Syrian port of Latakia.

Video footage of the raid

In reality, the shipment contained thousands of 107 mm Katyusha and 122 mm Grad rockets, about 9,000 mortars shells, and several hundred thousand Kalashnikov rounds — enough to sustain an intense armed conflict for about a month. The weight of the shipment was determined to be 320 tonnes and many of the individual crates were labeled ‘Ministry of Sepah’.

FrancopCargoAmerican ships and satellites appear to have been involved in tracking the ship, but seizure of the vessel by the Israeli Navy was delayed until just after the conclusion of American-Israeli joint defense exercise, Juniper Cobra.

This event follows closely after another Iranian arms ship was snared by US warships in the Gulf of Suez last month. In 2002, Israeli forces captured the Karine A arms ship loaded with 50 tonnes of Iranian-supplied weaponry destined for Hamas militants in Gaza.

News links…

BBC: Israelis seize Iran arms ship

Jerusalem Post: Defense officials say weapons bound for Syria, Hizbullah

Jerusalem Post: Syrian FM: Ship was not carrying arms

More detail via Debkafile:
Captured Iranian arms ship tip of the iceberg of vast weapons sealift to Hizballah

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