Reading Through the Syrian “Outcry”

My take on the big uproar over the US raid into Syria is that it  will blow over in a few days.    While Syria probably didn’t sit down with US troops and say “gee how can we plan a joint operation against the targets,” I suspect Syria probably turned a blind eye, knowing that the raid carried out one of their stated security objectives.   Scroll down a few posts to read my theory in greater depth.  Borzou of the LA TIMES looks at the possibility that Syria green-lighted the attack: 

Everyone’s still scratching their heads about Sunday’s dramatic U.S. attack on a Syrian village five miles from the Iraqi border.

Plenty of unanswered questions remain, like why didn’t the Syrians do anything to thwart the Americans, such as launching anti-aircraft batteries deployed along their border?  Ronen Bergman, an Israeli intelligence expert and author of the recent “The Secret War with Iran,” speculates that Syria green-lighted the U.S. operation.   In an interview with an Israeli newspaper and in a chat with Britain’s Sky News, Bergman cites two senior American officials who he says told him the Americans went after an alleged Al Qaeda leader in Syria only after getting Damascus’ OK.

He says the Syrians were at first reluctant to appear to be submitting to U.S. pressure by going after the guy themselves. In the end, they discretely gave the Americans permission to cross their border and hunt him down …   According to Bergman, Syrians told Washington they wouldn’t block their way if  commandos entered their country in broad daylight:

“If you want to do this, do it. We are going to give you a corridor and carte blanche. We will not harm your troops. … The Syrians have invested so much in aerial defences, especially against choppers and the Americans go in in daylight and nothing is being done.”

According to U.S. officials, the target of the raid was a man named Abu Ghadiya, an Al Qaeda figure responsible for funneling guns and fighters through Syria and into Iraq. But journalists who reached the site quoted villagers as saying the only people killed were innocent civilians.  Does it make sense that Syria would OK such a dramatic U.S. attack?  There’s been a slight thaw in relations between Syria and the U.S. over the last few months. Syria’s secular leadership has been fighting radical Islamists for decades.  From a Syrian point of view, why not let the U.S. take care of the region’s Abu Ghadiyas?   And as for the timing, it’s better for Damascus to let the U.S. finish the job now and blame the Bush administration, whose reputation in the Middle East could hardly get worse, and make a fresh start with the Obama or McCain teams.

My Commentary
The comments accuse the post’s writer of merely following a right-wing agenda, trying to disguise or legitimize American agression.  Ok, but how do we explain that this mission just happens to fit in with Syria’s stated security goals? 

 Governments, almost by definition, say one thing and do another.  There wouldn’t be anything especially unusual about the Syrian government making a public show about “US agression” while having had full knowledge of it all along.  No government’s statements can be taken at face value.  Could Italy’s protests following the 2003 CIA kidnappings in Milan be taken at face-value?  I don’t think so. 

Also,  if in fact the raid was green-lighted, there is the possibily (even likelihood) that only the Security apparatus and highest level political people would know about it and  therefore the people bitching up the biggest storm could genuinely think that Syria got shafted when in fact it didn’t. 




Is Pope Shenuda Violating the Concept of Citizenship?

  A few days ago Ibrahim Eissa, editor of Egypt’s  Al-Dostor newspaper, had an interesting op-ed  questioning whether Pope Shenuda, leader of the Egyptian Christians, was violating the concept of citizenship with his (alleged)  interference in political affairs.  Is he a Pope or a Zaim ( political leader)?  asked Eissa.

The Copts consist of at least 7 million of Egypt’s 78 million and generally adhere to the principle of secularism and citizenship, in the sense that they try to play down religious differences under the law.  They know that numerically they can never compete with the Muslims, so for the most part they espouse secular citizenship.   This is understandable as some Islamist parties, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, argue as part of their official platform that neither Copts or women should be eligible to run for President.  

Pope Shenuda (mid-80s) , the leader of the Coptic Church since the early 1970s has been in Ohio for the last couple months receiving medical treatment.  Upon his return to Cairo he was greeted at the airport by an official government delegation.  Eissa article addresses this.

The Article
Its great that Pope Shenuda is greeted like this… but its evidence that the Egyptian state is distancing itself from the principle of citizenship.  This was clearly a political delegation.  The Pope is being treated as political leader of the Copts and not as their religious symbol (which Eissa views is a mistake)

Before anyone misunderstands, let me reiterate my deep respect for the Pope.  I only wish Egyptian Muslims had a leader they could love and respect so much, instead of the state appointed clerics who lack any legitimacy or credibility.

However, this doesn’t prevent me from saying that Pope Shenuda has turned the Coptic Church into his personal monopoly.  Coptics have transformed from people of his Church to citizens of his church.  Notice how delegations were sent to his Hospital bed in Ohio, not to discuss trivial religious affairs, but things much more important.  ..Notice how everyone was saying “wait till the Pope returns” before we can settle these affairs.   It goes to the extent that we don’t know if he is the Coptic religious guide or political guide.

This is a dangerous game and a violation of the principle of Citizenship that Copts and Muslims both call for.  And the NDP plays right along in their treatment of Pope Shenuda.    Note the recent announcement of a major Bishop that he and most of the Church leadership would be supporting Gamal Mubarak in future presidential elections is a  clear intervention in politics. 

Closing the article:  “Thanks be to God that the Pope has gotten better, but now we call on him to open the doors of the Church to let the Copts act as citizens of the state and not as citizens of the Coptic Church.”

As a non-Egyptian its not my place to comment on what “should” or “should not” be happening in Egypt. 

But Eissa brings up a lot of good points, and it does seem that the Pope’s behavior and especially the recent endorsement of Gamal Mubarak by a major Bishop is not consistent with the principle of citizenship or secular separation of religion and state that the Copts often call for.

Give them some Goggles!

Robert Worth has an EXCELLENT article  in the New York Times on recent efforts to strengthen the Lebanese Army.  

A few weeks back I posted about the rising Salafi presence in the Levant which are thriving post-2005 Syrian withdrawal because of the power vacuum that emerged after the most powerful force suddenly disappeared.  Ie these groups can move around almost at will, at least in Lebanon, because there is noone to stop them.  So the question then that I posed is 

 I argued in this post that perhaps a Syrian reoccupation (or at least a strong presence in)  of Lebanon is the best option for the long-term stabilization of Lebanon.  Its the most “natural” arrangement and the Syrian presence puts a check on Sunni ambitions in Lebanon and keeps a lid on the kind of Sectarianism we see today.

BlackStar disagreed with my arguement and made a solid case that this would only further increase political tension inside Lebanon.  She argued that the best thing the US could do is focus on strengthening the Lebanese Army.   Basically, the difference here is over how to best bring Security to Lebanon. 

I think they best possible way to do this is have a strong Syrian presence in Lebanon but with Joe Biden bragging about his accomplisments in kicking Hezbollah out of Lebanon (wait he meant Syria right?), the US is not likely to support such a policy any time soon. Not unless someone with the foreign policy Vision of BUSH THE FATHER were to reoccupy the White House but that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

Therefore,  I agree with Blackstar that strengthening the Lebanese Army is the most logical option.   And this is what US policy official is:

“United States policy is that Lebanon be sovereign and independent and the Lebanon government and its institutions govern all of Lebanon’s territory and disarm militias,” said Christopher C. Straub, deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East. “We recognize that is not going to happen overnight, but that is our policy.”

Worth and Eric Liption  provide a run-down of efforts to rearm the Lebanese Army.  The only way that the Lebanese Army can govern effectively Lebanon’s territory  is if it has a monopoly on the use of force.  Traditionally it has not, but it seems to be getting closer with the aid of the US.

1) Choppers-  probably going to have to wait a bit on that one

An important moment for the army came in the summer of 2007, when it fought and won a three-month battle with Islamists in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in the northern city of Tripoli. That struggle, in which 168 soldiers and an unknown number of militants were killed, vividly underscored the need to re-equip the army. With no combat helicopters or precision weapons, the army had to resort to dropping bombs by hand from its Vietnam-era Huey helicopters, a hopelessly inaccurate method that resulted in the near-leveling of the camp.

Although the United States rushed them 40 loads of C-17 transport planes full of ammunition and other gear, army commanders bitterly resented the failure to provide them with more sophisticated arms.

“Nahr al-Bared lasted 105 days,” said one high-level Lebanese officer involved in procurement issues, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “If we had had attack helicopters, it would have been over in 15 days.”

It does seem that this kind of attack helicopter would have made a serious difference.  If they were dropiing bombs by hand out of Helicopters, real combat Helicopters probably would have made a decisive difference.  I see no reason why in the future, they can’t get some serious upgrades in this area.  The biggest problem is the US buracracy, which is really really slow. 

2) Night-vision goggles:  Whats the hold-up here? 

Another stark illustration of Lebanon’s new military ambitions, and its gaping needs, is visible right now on the country’s northern border with Syria. In recent weeks, after a string of bombings in Tripoli that left 20 people dead — most of them Lebanese soldiers — the military sent 8,000 soldiers to the border to monitor smuggling routes across the northern mountains.

That effort alone was a measure of Lebanon’s new independence from Syria. But the border control force was too small, and it lacked necessary equipment, Lebanese military officials say.

“They have no U.A.V.’s, no night-vision equipment, none of the sensors they use in other countries to tell if what you’re seeing is a threat or just an animal,” the Lebanese procurement officer said, using the abbreviation for unmanned aerial vehicles. “Let’s say you have 50 valleys in one area, and you have soldiers posted on hilltops. They can watch during the day, but at night they can do nothing.”

We know that Lebanon is, to some extent, used as a way station for Al-Qaeda affiliated militants.  Smugglers must be laughing knowing that the Lebanese Army doesn’t have Nigh-Vision Goggles. Any anti-smuggling operation is virtually useless if one is only capable of being effective during the day as anyone who has stood in a rural area at night can attest.   So whats the hold-up here?  There is nothing especially politically  sensitive about providing night-vision goggles.

3) Air-defense system-   your probably not going to get one:

And it is heavier weapons that are most needed, Lebanese officials say. In particular, they want an air defense system, which would allow them to argue that they could completely replace Hezbollah as a warding force against Israel in the south.

“It’s the ABC of any army to have the capacity to defend itself,” the Lebanese procurement officer said. “During the 2006 war, Israeli aircraft were shooting from 300 meters up.”

The US State Department might talk about disarming Hezbollah but they know that this is just lipservice.  Its not going to happen.  At least not any time soon.  Any US aid to the Lebanese army that might allow them to “argue that they could completely replace Hezbollah as a warding force against Israel in the south” should probably be avoided. Any effort to do the physical “replacing” would be explosive politically.  I see know reason why a strong Hezbollah militia (who can be used as a buffer zone in the South, preventing any confrontation between Israel and Jihadists) and a strong Lebanese Army has to be mutually exclusive. 

But even more importantly, I find it extremely unlikely that the US woudl even consider giving Lebanon, a nation technically still at war with Israel, an air defense system is hard to fathom.  Congress, under pressure from pro-Israeli groups, is highly unlikely to ever go along with that.   I’m not sure its a good idea at all any way as it would take Lebanon to “the brink” as far as a showdown between the Army and Hezbollah and that’s something to be avoided.

Still, I see no reason why they couldn’t be provided with Night-Vision Goggles.  All in all,  a very well researched article on an important strategic issue.

Yeah I Agree.

Loyal MediaShack reader Blackstar sent me an email today complaining about  the site’s recent focus exclusively on Al-Qaeda and Salafism (apparently she’s not a Salafist).  I hadn’t really thought of it like that but when I looked at the themes of the last 40 post I realized she had a point.  MediaShack does not aim to focus exclusively on Islamist movements  but on Middle Eastern politics.  Another goal of MediaShack is to reflect the contents of the Arabic press  so readers who don’t know Arabic can get a sense of what people are talking or thinking about on the “Arab Street.”  Recently this might not be happening.  So to restore some balance, for the next seven days MediaShack will not be covering Al-Qaeda or Salafism.

Is the Taliban About to Turn Zawahiri Over to the US?

Dia Rashwan, the noted Egyptian Al-Qaeda analyst, said at a recent conference in Cairo that the Afghan government is negotiating with the Taliban.   The potential deal:  The Taliban turns over Ayman Zawahiri in exchange for Taliban participation in the political process and an end to the war with the government.   The negotiations are being carried out under Saudi oversight and the US wants them to end before Bush leaves giving him a victory in the war against terrorism.  

Source here is  Al-Dostor (10/24, p4) which  apparently does not get the concept of putting today’s news on the net the day it comes out.  IslamOnline also has good coverage of the conference and notes that Rashwan could see the Taliban sacrificing Zawahiri but not Bin Laden because that relationship is deeper: 

 ويقول رشوان: باعتقادي أن طالبان من الممكن أن تضحي بالظواهري لكنها لن تضحي ببن لادن لعلاقته الوثيقة بطالبان

As for the source- remember this is not AHMED CAFE CHAIR. Dia Rashwan is one of the most respected Arab commentators on Al-Qaeda and is often cited by Western researchers. 

If the US were able to pull this off, it would be a tremendous coup and should take the deal in a second. 

As I’ve said all along, the Taliban is not_a_natural_and_permanent enemy of the US.  They are an unsophisticated group of local Afghan Islamists who care first and foremost about local Afghan rule.  Afghanistan is only a threat to the US when it is ungoverned, allowing Arab fanatics (Al-Qaeda) to use it as a base to plan operations against the US.  Mullah Omar was willing to discuss turning over Bin Laden in the late 1990s.  Only after 9/11 did the Taliban become_an_enemy of the US.   A Taliban that turns on Al-Qaeda is not an enemy of the US, and if they are the only force that is capable of effectively governing Afghanistan than so be it. 

Secondly, to the extent that AQ is a  central organization (which is doubtful)  Zawahiri and not Bin Laden is the guy that makes things happen. So if he were turned over it would be a serious blow to the organization’s operational capacity, not to mention a major PR victory for the US.

Can We Stop Calling These Guys Members of Al-Qaeda?

Rafa Taha and Mustafa Hamza are two  members of the Egyptian Islamic Group (Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiya).    In American terrorism literature, however, these two names, are often held up as members of Islamic Group that joined al-Qaeda.  Or the discourse is framed as “the group splintered into two, and the overseas group joined Al-Qaeda.”  Islam Online reports that the Egyptian government gave them special permission to go home for Ramadan which ended a few weeks ago:

وأضافت المصادر التي فضلت عدم ذكر اسمها أن: “حمزة الصادر بحقه حكمان بالإعدام، حصل على إفراج مؤقت في شهر رمضان الماضي قام فيه بزيارة أهله، وهو ما تكرر في عيد الفطر”، مؤكدة أن هذا الإفراج جاء بعد قبول حمزة بمراجعات الجماعة الإسلامية ومبدأ المصالحة مع الدولة الذي تبنته الجماعة بعد مبادرة وقف العنف 1997.

وفي السياق نفسه أكدت المصادر الأمنية ذاتها أن رفاعي طه رئيس مجلس شورى الجماعة الإسلامية السابق، والذي تسلمته مصر من سوريا في 2001 بعد اختطافه وهو في طريقه إلى السودان، قد حصل على إفراج مماثل خلال عيد الفطر الماضي.

If these guys were, in fact, Qaeda members, they certainly wouldn’t be allowed to leave jail during Ramadan.

Good Reads

– I missed this excellent Robert Worth NY Times  article on the brewing_storm in North Lebanon.  Check it out.

-Also, Asharq Al-Awsat, which in my opinion is the best Middle Eastern newspaper, has on the scene reporting about the Pakistani Awakening Forces.  It looks like a solid article although I havent read it yet.   Eventually I will and pass along any relevant info to non-Arabic readers.

Dude, You should’ve kept your mouth shut

If you were a radical Jihadist who was lucky  enough to get political asylum in Britain, might you think about laying low?  Not Hanai Sibai.  A former top leader of the Egyptian Jihad group, Sibai takes every opportunity to publicly express his sympathy for Al-Qaeda ideology.   For example, last summer, he made an appearance (from London)  on the Arab world’s most-watched political talk-show,  Al-Itijah Al-Muakis,  railing_against_the_evils of secularism.   At one point he even goes as far to say that the West calling birds Turkeys- after the name of the Muslim country Turkey, is a sign of how they don’t respect Islam ( go to 3:35 in the clip) … That’s brilliant analysis.  HT to Jihadica for pointing this out. 

The following December,  after Sayyid Imam Al-Sharif published his non-violence initiative, there were probably 40-50 op-eds in the Arabic press analyzing them.  About 49 said this is  a great thing and a major (and positive) development in the history of the Jihadist movement.  Sibai, however, wrote articles in Al-Masri Al-Youm  and  Al-Hayat  bitterly_denouncing Sayyid Imam’s non-violence initiative.   Even a lot of his friends were saying “yo, what the hell are you doing?”   I remember reading an op-ed by a conservative Jihad sympathizer saying that Sibai needs to keep his mouth shut or he is going to go the way of Abu Hamza and other prominent Euro-Jihadist clerics who pushed the limits too far and are now in jail. 

It seems this is about to happen to Sibai.  Today,   Al-Masri al-Youm,  courtesy of info provided by Montaser al-Zayat,  reports that the British and Egyptian governments are negotiating Sibai’s extradition back to Egypt  from his home of the last 15 years.   According to the article,   Egypt had been repeatedly making this request for years, but this is the first time during the Gordon Brown administration.   Perhaps something has changed the British government’s opinion now. 

For his part,  Sibai says its not fair and that this is a violation of previous agreements.  Please join me in  not shedding any tears for Mr. Sibai.   I don’t know anything about asylum law, but it seems to me that if, fleeing from a perceived threat, you are given shelter in someone’s house, you should be thankful and keep your mouth shut.  Taking the step of very publicly opposing Sayyid Imam’s revisions is blatant terrorism incitement, so in my view  he deserves whatever he’s got coming for him.

I’m just disapointed that that we won’t be able to read  FANATIC_FACEOFF_II.  Sayyid Imam is coming_out_with_a_new_book in response to Zawahiri and Sibai as the sequel to his anti-violence initiative.  Something tells me Sibai will not be responding this time around.

What would Syria-Israeli peace mean?

Readers should check out a long must-read analytical post  from Syria Comment called “Syrian-Israeli Peace: The Impact on Non-State Militias.”

How Did I Miss This?

Maybe its because my tv is is broken.  Last week’s episode of Al-Jazeera’s Al-Itijah Al-Muakis featured a debate  about the Afghan attempt to reconcile with the Taliban.  Making another appearance on the show was John Wilkes, an Arabic speaking British diplomat.  See a MediaShack report on his last extremely impressive appearance.   Anyone studying Arabic should have a  listen to see how good this guy is.  …. Expect more later on the contents.

UPDATE:  I just listened to the beginning.  Not the best show.  Part of the reason is  because the Egyptian opponent doesn’t seem to have any special knowledge about Afghanistan, although he talks arrogantly as if he knows everything.   According to the Egyptian, NATO is losing in Afghanistan, can’t control its land, so now is resorting to inciting fitna, and trickery… and this is supposedly what is behind the recent British announcements about the Taliban.  He also claims there is a new Western conspiracy to occupy the gates/entrance to the Red Sea.     That’s the kind of analysis I would expect from a Cairo cab-driver, not someone who is supposedly  a serious political analyst.  Maybe Faisal couldn’t find someone who knows Afghanistan beyond superficial sentiment to come on the show.    This is one of the weakness of Al-Itijah Al-Muakis.    The show needs ratings first and foremost so they need to find people who will say stuff that generates ratings.  So occasionally it produces shows like this one. 

One interesting note: Wilkes was  repeatedly pressed to answer the question  “do you recognize the Taliban?”  He would only say “The Taliban is present.”

Can Al Qaeda rebrand itself?

My good friend and long-time MediaShack reader has an outstanding analysis in the Abu Dhabi National on the distinction between terrorism and resistance in the Arab society.

3 critical ideas that article underscores: first, that Arab media makes sharp distinction between terrorism and resistance, the thing that directly influenced the stance Al Qaeda and Hezbollah hold in the Arab world. Secondly, Al Qaeda’s effort to “rebrand” itself as part of the resistance. Thirdly, Al Qaeda’s endeavors to posses a foothold in the Levant.

These ideas mainly expose the context in which Al Qaeda is currently functioning in. Al Qaeda expected that it would be not only part of the resistance, but actually to be the vanguard of this line against the infidels, who are occupying or trying to dominate the Muslim societies, but the problem was that Al Qaeda secluded itself from the society and started not only to evaluate it but actually to judge it and that was a very sensitive issue in the Muslim, and especially that Arab societies that are facing several social, economic and political problems, a clear example for that was in Iraq; when Abu Musab al Zarqawi diverted his efforts to “massacring Shiites and killing fellow Sunnis deemed insufficiently pious” he lost the Arabs sympathy. The important point that could be pointed out was the reason behind Al Qaeda’s failure; which was failing to situate itself as a defender of the Arabs rights, and more importantly was failing to display its operations as gains to the Arabs’ causes. Note something, the Arabs perceived what happened in 9/11 as a divinely punishment to the unjust rather than a successful hit done by Mujahedeen, yet, western media falsely displayed these sentiments as gloating to what happened. Thus the sharp distinction drawn by the Arab media came as a consequence to what the people actually believed in, and not vice versa. On the other hand, Hezbollah succeeded to situate itself as a struggler; it did not engage in any religious judgements or evaluations and focused on presenting itself as a liberation movement that is wide enough to include the whole society with all its contradiction.

The dilemma that faces Al Qaeda is that its activities seem chaotic and thus what the people understandabout it, is that it aims to destroy and eradicate all societal forms that do not conform with its blinkered vision, thus the question that some people in the Arab world pose is “What would happen to us if a group like Al Qaeda or Al Jihad seized power in the country?”, there’s a belief that adherents of this trend won’t be tolerable with their own people. they won’t even be understanding to what the pressuring economic conditions forced them to do in order to make a living. However, there’s another side to this point that these chaotic activities are re-presented within a new context that makes more sense, Al Qaeda realizes that there’s a political vacuum in the Arab world, and that there’s an increasing level of resentment toward the failed states in the  region, and as it operates devoid of any political considerations, thus it could be a mean of confronting and changing their conditions.

Al Qaeda’s attempt to “rebrand” itself might be the most important point here, that attempt is not a big challenge for Al Qaedaitselfto develop its parochial vision and to broaden its horizons, but mainly to those parties fighting it, since by achieving this step, it will acquire a huge recruiting capacity, and greater mobility, not to mention getting actually accepted, which means that it would turn to be part of the Arab social milieu. Al Qaeda knows that it is causing a confusion among the Salafis who couldn’t excommunicate its members, although they acknowledge some of the fallacies Al Qaeda fell into, and thats actually what Nathan pointed out concerning Al Awajj’s dance around a question he was asked whether Bin Laden and other Al Qaeda members are “terrorists” or “fighters”?. Let’s note something here, the importance of the Jihadi revisions done by some militant groups, especially Syyaid Imams’ is that they call for adopting new approach in dealing with the current deteriorating conditions or the police-governments, since the violent approach would cause more harm to the society than it would really effect the regime. But this call was perceived, by Salafis, as a turn against the idea of Jihad that’s basically to “change” whats wrong in the society and that “change” is a religious obligation for every Muslim, the difference here is over how the change should be done? So, Al Qaeda needs to insert itself in the society as one of the partisans capable of changing, then enhancing its position becoming the leader of this change.

The most important defiant facing Al Qaeda now is Hezbollah. Al Qaeda did not operate in the Levant because it never had the haven nor the welcoming environment, no doubt that security was the foremost success the “failed” states achieved. Consequently, eradicating Hezbollah is not merely a political gain, but more importantly it would be a strategic gain. Al Qaeda is aware that there is no party that could fill Hezbollah’s place as fast and efficiently as Al Qaeda could do. The problem in this regard is that many players in the region are pestered with Hezbollah’s stance; therefore, some of these parties might -indirectly-  help Al Qaeda in bringing down Hezbollah. however, this point remains a bit questionable.

This is a higly recommended article that relies basically on Arabic references, I encourage all those interested in understanding the environment surrounding Al Qaeda and the possible scenarios for its actions to read this piece  carefully.

Someone Call the Police

A new  movie of interest to MediaShack readers:

The new Ridley Scott thriller “Body of Lies,” which opens Friday, tells the story of a fictional collaboration between the CIA and Jordan’s secret police. While Hollywood may romanticize Jordan’s intelligence service, the facts, according to numerous reports, are more brutal than shown on the big screen.

Based on the novel “Penetration” by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, “Body of Lies” tells the story of a CIA operative played by Leonardo DiCaprio who attempts to infiltrate and destroy an Al Qaeda cell with the assistance of Hani Salaam, the fictional head of the General Intelligence Department (GID), or mukhabarat in Arabic.

Mr. Ignatius describes Mr. Salaam as an Arab-world James Bond: good looking, cool, and too savvy to use “inefficient” methods like torture. But international observers say the real GID is a far cry from its depiction in art.

Early in 2008, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published the results of interviews with more than a dozen former detainees who said they were tortured in GID custody. On Wednesday, the group issued a new report, alleging widespread torture in Jordan’s regular prisons – particularly among Islamists convicted of national security crimes.

Is this glorifying torture?  I think its more complicated than this and a general distinction needs to be made between public perceptions of  “the Police” and the Intel- or State Security.  
In many Arab  countries, the Spy Agencies, which are seen as protecting the state,  are very prestigious and have wide public respect.  Some not so nice things probably happen but they happen in secrecy so they are less visible.   This is not merely semantics- people actually make a distinction.  For example,  the most popular Ramadan television show ever in the Arab world is a hard-core romanticization of  Egypt’s Spy Agencies- Rafaat_Al-Hagen.  Its supposedly a true story about a young Egyptian who went to Israel (as a spy) to set up a tourism company in the initial years after Israel’s independence.  Today,  Omar Suleiman, the head of Egyptian Intelligence,  has enormous prestige and many consider him a future Presidential candidate.  He wouldn’t be in that position if his agency was hated or disliked.

On the other hand, what would be considered “police misconduct” in the US, is mostly happening at the hands of the Police, not State Security.   So Arab police forces, in general, have a bad reputation, although this may be partially because they are more visible.  Of course, these are generalizations.  But I think we can say that the Spy Agencies are widely respected and seen as James Bond-esque, whereas the Police have major PR issues.  If Decaprio made a film glorifying Arab police forces then I would be highly suspicious.  

One last thing, the fact that this movie is based on a David Ignatious book  gives it more credibility.  He knows what he is talking about when it comes to Intelligence.  Read  Agents_of_Innocence an awesome book on Lebanon, the PLO, and the CIA.

More from Islamic Group

A couple days ago I posted  that people need to stop calling Egypt’s Islamic Group (Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya) a terrorist group because 1) they have not used terrorism since 1997 and  2) they clearly do not aim to overthrow the Government. 

By  coincidence, IslamOnline  just posted a remarkable interview with one of the group’s leaders, Najah Ibrahim, who answered questions from readers around the region.  Most were related to the group’s new (and sole) emphasis on Dawa (preaching). 

He did mention how 12k of IG’s prisoners and 1k of Jihad’s have been released from jail.  In my analysis, IJ is making the same shift  away from violence and towards Dawa.   However, for IJ its going to take them much longer because their conflict was always more ideological and because of this they have a harder times rationalizing to themselves the jump.   

The most remarkable question came from a guy in Qatar, challenging IG’s insistence on an anti-violence platform:

 paraphrasing-  “With all due respect to the movement’s efforts to benefit the society by distancing yourself from internal conflict with the state- what about when its a question of foreign countries (the US) occupying our countries- don’t we have the right to adopt the idea of Jihad to deal with them?”

Ibrahim acknowledges that  Jihad is an absolute religious right.  ‘We all love Jihad in the path of God.  And we spent many years at this and fought many battles.”  But Jihad has conditions that need to be met.   One can’t just go and fight whenever they feel like it.  It has to be done at the right place and at the right time. 

Basically, Ibrahim is basically saying  recklessly fought Jihad is something that must be avoided because it only harms the society and this is what Islamic Group now admits that it did, especially between 1988 and 1997.   This is exactly what Sayyid Imam says in his anti-violence initiative.  Its great that they say this, but alot of people would disagree with their interpretation.  For some pissed off 18 or 19 year old who might be interested in joining the Resistance in Iraq, etc, this sounds like a pretty lame arguement.

Talking to the Talibian

is the subject of today’s post at Abu Muqawama.   There’s a couple good responses and I have added my Afghanistan COIN  plan to the discussion session 1) Negotiate with the Taliban and 2)  Buy and Burn all the Opium rather than try and follow a stupid War on Drugs approach

When do “Terrorist” groups become not Terrorist Groups?

Could someone please tell the Council on Foreign Relations to update their website?  

“Jamaat al-Islamiyya is a radical group that seeks to install an Islamic regime in place of the secular Egyptian government.”

First of all, it is not the “Jamaat al-Islamiyya.”  It should say “Al-Jama’a or Al-Gama’a  Al-Islamiyya.”   Second, they do not seek to overthrow the Egyptian regime as terrorism scholars endlessly_claim.  Islamic Group has not committed an act of violence since their 1997 initiative to end violence.    Then, in 2003, after a series of long jail-house discussions they dramatically distanced themselves from their previous militant ideology which they outlined in a series of books.  In response, the government let most of them out of jail and none of them have returned to terrorism.   And now they issue frequent statements praising their previous arch-enemies, Nasser and Sadat.   They have done this at least three times in the last 4 months.  Yesterday, on the 35th Anniversary of the October War, they issued a statement praising Sadat, Nasser and all those who participated in the “Great Victory.”  Its on page 5 of  Al-Dostor which hasn’t put today’s paper online yet.

So here’s my question:  When a group gives up violence, radically changes its Islamic ideology, and then starts making frequent appearances in the press praising the people it originally fought against, doesn’t it cease to be a “terrorist group?”   Why does Audrey Cronin totally ignore the Islamic Group’s experience in her 2006 paper on the Decline_and_Demise_of_Terrorist_Groups?   Might it be that the theories can’t explain this?

Does Christopher Hitchens Read Media Shack?

Two days ago I posted  that the US should buy and burn all the Opium in Afghanistan because trying to stop Afghan farmers from growing their only crop drives them straight into the insurgency.  Yesterday, Christopher Hitchens said the same thing:

This is why it is peculiar of us, if not bizarre and quasi-suicidal, to insist that its main economic lifeblood continues to be wholly controlled by our enemies…And, unsurprisingly, UNODC also reports that the vast bulk of the revenue from this astonishing harvest goes directly to the Taliban or to local warlords and mullahs. Meanwhile, in the guise of liberators NATO forces appear and tell the Afghan villagers that they intend to burn their only crop. And the American embassy is only restrained by the Afghan government from pursuing a policy of actually spraying this same crop from the air! In other words, the discredited fantasy of Richard Nixon’s so-called “War on Drugs” is the dogma on which we are prepared to gamble and lose the country that gave birth to the Taliban and hospitality to al-Qaida.


While in the short term, hard-pressed Afghan farmers should be allowed to sell their opium to the government rather than only to the many criminal elements that continue to infest it or to the Taliban. We don’t have to smoke the stuff once we have purchased it: It can be burned or thrown away or perhaps more profitably used to manufacture the painkillers of which the United States currently suffers a shortage. (As it is, we allow Turkey to cultivate opium poppy fields for precisely this purpose.) Why not give Afghanistan the contract instead? At one stroke, we help fill its coffers and empty the main war chest of our foes while altering the “hearts-and-minds” balance that has been tipping away from us.


I happen to know that this option has been discussed at quite high levels in Afghanistan itself, and I leave you to guess at the sort of political constraints that prevent it from being discussed intelligently in public in the United States. But if we ever have to have the melancholy inquest on how we “lost” a country we had once liberated, this will be one of the places where the conversation will have to start.

 I couldn’t agree more.  Hitchens is  right on the last point but I don’t see why this couldn’t be carried out covertly.  And just to be clear I had no idea that Hitchens would be writing this on October 6 when I posted the same thing on October 5th.   In fact,  I have long argued (and have a paper trail to prove it) that the drug trade everywhere could  easily be disrupted and destroyed by the US government if it wanted to disrupt the economic supply and demand chain.   Major High-Five to Friday_in-Cairo for passing this along.

Better Late Than Never?

In a recent interview, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made some shocking statements about what Israel is going to have to give up:

Virtually on his way out the door from the prime minister’s office, Ehud Olmert told Israelis what he really thinks of the future of the peace process.

In a sweeping interview with the mass circulation newspaper Yedioth Ahranot, Mr. Olmert said on the eve of the Jewish New Year last week that Israelis are dreaming if they think they can make peace with the Palestinians without paying the price: a withdrawal from most of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.

We have to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the meaning of which is that in practice we will withdraw from almost all the territories, if not all the territories,” Olmert told the Yediot Aharanot newspaper last week. “We will leave a percentage of these territories in our hands, but will have to give the Palestinians a similar percentage, because without that there will be no peace.”

Asked if this included Jerusalem, he said: “Including in Jerusalem, with special solutions that I can envision on the topic of the Temple Mount and the sacred and historical sites.”

Olmert said that for 35 years he was unwilling to look at the realities of Jerusalem, the eastern half of which Israel annexed after the Six-Day War in 1967.

OK this is nice to hear.  But why now?  Why are you saying this now, after adopting a “take it or leave it” hard-line approach towards peacemaking for your entire career in government?    And isn’t this an admission that  previous Israeli peace attempts were ingenuous?    CSM notes how the comments are complicating Tipi Livni’s attempts to form a new cabinet:

To peace enthusiasts, this is good news for the future direction of the Kadima Party, which has supported a moderate if motionless platform since taking over in March 2006. To conservatives who don’t see conditions conducive to a settlement of the conflict, Olmert’s comments show a clear leftward tilt that puts him – and possibly Kadima – squarely in the camp of Israelis who are willing to make significant concessions to the Palestinians and the Syrians.

This means that while left or middle-of-the-road parties would like to join a government led by Livni, it will be harder for her to bring in parties such as Shas, which holds 10 percent of the seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

It seems to me that Olmert’s comments, which are truly extraordinary for a PM to say, are too spontaneous to actually be spontaneous.  Maybe he is saying this as part of some kind of  coordinated effort with Livni  to gradually prepare the Israeli public for the realities they are going to have to face-if they want serious peace. 

How to Beat the Afghan Insurgency

Here’s another good post on the impending Afghanistan crisis.   Yes, it’s that serious.  So its time for people to start offering up new ideas.  Here’s mine: 

 Allow the Afghan farmers to grow all the Heroin they want and then have the US government  buy it at market value and then burn  it.  When there are no jobs in a nation except for Heroin, use that to the US’s advantage rather than  sanctimoniously pretend it is such a “bad thing.”  The farmers don’t care what happens to the Heroin, as long as they get their money.  If the farmers are happy, then the country eases more towards a stable economy. 

On that note,  the US could overnight almost completely disrupt the drug flow from Columbia by adapting such a policy.  Let the cartels grow all the drugs they want, then buy them up and destroy them.  Money talks.  Economics is economics.

Threatening War Crimes or Good Solid Deterence?

Did Israel commit war crimes in the 2006 war vs Hezbollah? Sure.  Might threatening to commit war crimes in any  future confrontation be smart deterence theory?  Absolutely.  This seems to be exactly what they are doing:

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel will use “disproportionate force” if Hezbollah guerrillas attack Israel, a senior military commander said in published comments Friday, adding that any village used to fire missiles against the Jewish state will be destroyed.

 Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, who commands forces along Israel’s northern border, issued a similar threat against Syria.

Eizenkot said Israel would show no mercy on Lebanese villages that harbor Hezbollah fighters. Israel has repeatedly complained that Hezbollah fighters used residential areas for cover, limiting Israel’s ability to respond.

Eizenkot stressed that this is “not a recommendation,” but a plan approved by the highest levels. “If fire is carried out from Shiite villages in Lebanon, this is the operational plan: Very aggressive fire.”

He said Israel would use what he called the “Dahiya doctrine,” a reference to the southern suburbs of Beirut where Hezbollah’s headquarters are located. During the 2006 war, Israel destroyed dozens of buildings in Dahiya, including the offices of Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah.

“What happened in the Dahiya quarter in Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired upon. We will apply disproportionate force upon it and cause great damage and destruction there,” he said. “From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases.”

Let me be clear: I am not condoning war crimes.  But this is a smart strategy for Israel.  Here is the strategic reality:  Hezbollah has no ability to engage in s offensive operations against Israel.  Or, put it this way, they don’t have the ability to “liberate” a single inch of land.  The best they can hope for is to conduct provocative small scale attacks to bait Israel into entering South Lebanon where it can sit back and fight defensive guerrilla war which neutralizes to some extent Israel’s tactical advantage.  So for Israel the status quo is just fine.  And if by making these threats they scare Hezbollah or make it clear that the material price of any future attack against Israel is going to be so high, then this is very smart  nicely executed deterence theory in practice.

Now the Brits are Saying it Too: Afghanistan is Doomed

See my previous post (scroll down) on Al-Quds Al-Arabi ‘s warning that the US is doomed in Afghanistan and that the only solution is to open a dialogue with the Taliban.  Perhaps we could dismiss their warnings as coming from a paper that, while serious,  is also somewhat anti-American.   It’s alot harder to do this when  it come from America’s closest allies.  From the NY_Times:

PARIS — A coded French diplomatic cable leaked to a French newspaper quotes the British ambassador in Afghanistan as predicting that the NATO-led military campaign against the Taliban will fail. That was not all. The best solution for the country, the ambassador said, would be installing an “acceptable dictator,” according to the newspaper.

“The current situation is bad, the security situation is getting worse, so is corruption, and the government has lost all trust,” the British envoy, Sherard Cowper-Coles, was quoted as saying by the author of the cable, François Fitou, the French deputy ambassador to Kabul.

Acknowledging that there is no option other than supporting the Americans in Afghanistan, the ambassador reportedly added, “but we must tell them that we want to be part of a winning strategy, not a losing one.” The American strategy, he is quoted as saying, “is destined to fail.”

More troops is not the solution:

Sir Sherard, as quoted, was critical of both American presidential candidates, who have vowed, if elected, to substantially increase American military support for Afghanistan to fight the Taliban.

In the short run, “It is the American presidential candidates who must be dissuaded from getting further bogged down in Afghanistan,” he is quoted as saying.

On Wednesday, General David D. McKiernan, the senior American military commander in Afghanistan, called on NATO to send more troops and other support as soon as possible to counter the insurgency.

So what then is the solution? 

Within 5 to 10 years, the only “realistic” way to unite Afghanistan would be for it to be “governed by an acceptable dictator,” the cable said, adding, “We should think of preparing our public opinion” for such an outcome.

Who is the only force that can be that “acceptable dictator?”  Isn’t it time to start talking to the Taliban?