This Is Not Your Father’s Hezbollah

This Is Not Your Father’s Hezbollah

BEIRUT — Around a kitchen table in Beirut’s southern suburbs, a midlevel Hezbollah commander moved empty coffee cups and a plastic water bottle around a cell phone, demonstrating how his men repelled an assault by what he said were Islamic State fighters along Lebanon’s border with Syria.

“They tried to come down through this valley, but we control the hills on either side,” he said, gesturing to the cell phone lying between the coffee cups and moving the water bottle to indicate the territory the militants still hold. “Right now we don’t have orders to attack; we are just defending.” Continue reading

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Islamism and Islamists: a Very Short Introduction

What exactly is ‘Islamism’ and what forms can it take? For Florence Gaub, the term embraces any political project that’s ‘inspired’ by the Muslim faith. That being said, she also believes Islamism comes in three basic varieties – revolutionary, electoral and authoritarian.

By Florence Gaub for European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS)

This Issue Brief was originally published by the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) on 17 October 2014.

Islamism today has many faces: militant groups in Iraq and Lebanon, political parties in Tunisia and Egypt, and regimes in Iran and Saudi Arabia. But this umbrella term conceals the fact that these groups use different tactics, tap into different grievances and have different political goals. Lumping them together is a gross oversimplification – it is time for an overview.

Although often associated with terrorist groups, the term Islamism simply denotes a political project inspired by Islam. Current streams of political Islam all belong to a wave of Islamist revivalism, the likes of which was last seen on several occasions between the 11th and 14th centuries. Their goal is the re-Islamisation of their respective societies, and ultimately a state based on theprinciples of Islam. The three major currents belong to this wave, however, differ starkly on religious doctrine, on what kind of state to establish, and how to fulfil their objectives. In contrast to adherents of authoritarian Islamism, who believe they have already accomplished the goal of creating an Islamic state, advocates of both revolutionary and electoral Islamism are ‘changists’, seeking to replace incumbent regimes. The latter two disagree, however, on the means to bring about the desired change, as well as on the form of the Islamic state to be achieved. Continue reading

Islamic State recruits broadly, not just fighters

FILE - In this Oct. 22,2 104 file photo, the apartment building in Aurora, Colo., which police say is the home of two of the three teenage girls who, according to U.S. authorities, were en route to join the Islamic State group in Syria when they were stopped at an airport in Germany. The three teenage girls from Colorado swapped Twitter messages about marriage and religion with recruiters for the Islamic State group, then set out for Syria with passports and thousands of dollars in stolen cash. Authorities intercepted them in Germany, then returned them to their families without criminal charges.  (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — As it looks to expand its territorial base across broad swaths of Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State group is recruiting for more than just fighters

The extremist organization also has been targeting its sophisticated propaganda to entice potential wives and professionals such as doctors, accountants and engineers in its efforts to build a new society.

Among those it has lured were three teenage girls from Colorado, who set out for Syria this fall after swapping Twitter messages about marriage and religion with IS recruiters, and a young woman who sought to fight there — or failing that, to use her nursing skills. It’s a diverse pool of recruits whose motives perplex Western governments seeking to combat the flow.

The group “is issuing a bit of a siren song through social media, trying to attract people to their so-called caliphate,” FBI Director James Comey told reporters. “And among the people they’re trying to attract are young women to be brides for these jihadis.” Continue reading

Where does the Islamic State’s fetish with beheading people come from?

Terror group’s tactics create fear out of all proportion to its military size
An IS militant with a man purported to be US journalist Steven Sotloff, in a still from the group's video

An IS militant with a man purported to be US journalist Steven Sotloff, in a still from the group’s video

Why does the Islamic State engage in beheadings and crucifixions? Of course, the practice of beheading is invoked in the Koran, but only the most extreme Islamic militants carry it out in the modern day.

We might identify three parts to this. First, psychological warfare is a key part of the Islamic State’s military strategy. Even where outnumbered, as they were in Mosul in June, the Islamic State’s fighters have used their reputation for terror to dissuade Iraqi forces from ever seeking battle. Which poorly paid soldier wishes to risk decapitation, impalement, or amputation for the sake of a distant, crumbling government? Fear is a uniquely effective weapon. Continue reading

How did the Shin Bet fail to spot the Hebron kidnap cell in time?

Analysis

Israel’s intelligence services have a remarkable record of success in the West Bank. Not this time. Hard lessons will have to be learned about the failure to thwart the killings of the three Israeli teens

July 4, 2014, 11:55 am
An Israeli soldier patrols near the area where the bodies of three Israeli teenagers were found, in the village of Halhul, near the West Bank city of Hebron, Tuesday, July 1, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Majdi Mohammed)

An Israeli soldier patrols near the area where the bodies of three Israeli teenagers were found, in the village of Halhul, near the West Bank city of Hebron, Tuesday, July 1, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Majdi Mohammed)

Ibrahim Hamed, the former head of Hamas’s military wing in the West Bank, the man responsible for the murders of dozens of Israelis, was thought of as a “ghost” for many years. Almost a legend. The Shin Bet and the Israel Defense Forces were not able to catch up to him, as he slipped through their grasp time and again. Only after eight years of pursuit was he captured in 2006 in a safe house in Ramallah’s al-Balou neighborhood.

People involved in the search for “The Sheikh” — who is today 49 and serving 54 life sentences — say one of the basic things that allowed him to evade capture for so long was his refusal to use a mobile phone. Israel’s security establishment managed to track his calls only twice over all those years, and even those instances were calls made from public phones.

Continue reading

There Is No al-Sham

Militants in Iraq and Syria are trying to re-create a nation that never existed.

BY Nick Danforth JUNE 17, 2014

Over the past few years, as Syria has dissolved into warring fiefdoms and Iraq has struggled to emerge from its disastrous civil war,American commentators have listed the many failings of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, upon which the Middle East’s state system was based. The 1916 arrangement divided the Ottoman Empire’s dominions in the Arab world into British and French “zones of influence,” laying the foundation for the region’s modern borders. The intense criticism of Sykes-Picot has provoked a backlash of sorts, as some analysts have suggested that piling blame on the agreement has distracted from what has really ailed the Middle East in the post-colonial period.

After capturing Mosul, Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) announced “the beginning of the end of the Sykes Picot agreement,” as the Guardian put it. The arrival of better-armed critics of the agreement seemed to herald a fundamental transformation of the Middle East’s borders — but behind ISIS’s recentsuccess lie a number of ironies inherent in both the group’s rhetoric and our own assumptions about the Middle East.

For all the imagination with which we’ve mentally remapped the region, we remain strangely wedded to the notion that political upheaval could reveal a new, more authentic set of Middle Eastern borders — based on ethnic and sectarian divisions, perhaps, or the re-emergence of some pre-imperialist geography. But recent developments suggest that if things do change dramatically, force and chance will play a greater role in determining what happens next than demography, geography, or history. Continue reading

What to do in Iraq

Reuters

Members of the Iraqi security forces patrol an area near the borders between Karbala Province and Anbar Province, June 16, 2014

It’s widely agreed that the collapse of Iraq would be a disaster for American interests and security in the Middle East and around the world. It also seems to be widely assumed either that there’s nothing we can now do to avert that disaster, or that our best bet is supporting Iran against al Qaeda. Both assumptions are wrong. It would be irresponsible to embrace a premature fatalism with respect to Iraq. And it would be damaging and counterproductive to accept a transformation of our alliances and relationships in the Middle East to the benefit of the regime in Tehran. There is a third alternative. Continue reading