Wednesday, 20 September 2017
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Middle East

By George Friedman

On Sunday, Israeli naval forces intercepted the ships of a Turkish nongovernmental organization (NGO) delivering humanitarian supplies to Gaza. Israel had demanded that the vessels not go directly to Gaza but instead dock in Israeli ports, where the supplies would be offloaded and delivered to Gaza. The Turkish NGO refused, insisting on going directly to Gaza. Gunfire ensued when Israeli naval personnel boarded one of the vessels, and a significant number of the passengers and crew on the ship were killed or wounded.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon charged that the mission was simply an attempt to provoke the Israelis. That was certainly the case. The mission was designed to demonstrate that the Israelis were unreasonable and brutal. The hope was that Israel would be provoked to extreme action, further alienating Israel from the global community and possibly driving a wedge between Israel and the United States. The operation's planners also hoped this would trigger a political crisis in Israel.

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By Matthew Smith

The Israeli raid on the Gaza Aid Flotilla has once more brought Israel into the world headlines for all the wrong reasons. Events rapidly spiralled out of control when protestors aboard the Turkish owned MV Mavi Marmara attacked and disarmed a number of Israeli commandos who had been sent to commandeer the vessel. Whether through panic or being fired upon themselves, Israeli forces opened fire on protesters, resulting in nine dead. Footage of the boarding can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2duPV9MQIc&feature=related The intelligence failure that underestimated the severity of protestors' reaction will have major consequences. Had such a welcome been envisaged for the Israeli commandos, alternative means of subduing the protestors could have been used, avoiding this whole affair.

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By Adam Dempsey, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

Over the past few years American and European counterterrorism officials have grown increasingly wary of the threat posed by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). EUROPOL's 2008 Terrorism Situation and Trend Report said that France, Italy, Spain and Portugal all considered AQIM as a threat to their national security. Because of its proximity to the Maghreb Italy believes it is a particularly attractive transit route for AQIM into Europe. Despite initially limiting its activities to North Africa AQIM has declared that all Western states are targets. The increasing confidence of AQIM will require a robust counter-terror response on both a global and regional level. Yet recent regional initiatives appear to be compromised by an imbalance of appropriate tools and geopolitical rivalry.

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By Scott Stewart

On April 25, The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) posted a statement on the Internet confirming that two of its top leaders, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayub al-Masri, had been killed April 18 in a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation in Salahuddin province. Al-Baghdadi (an Iraqi also known as Hamid Dawud Muhammad Khalil al-Zawi), was the head of the ISI, an al Qaeda-led jihadist alliance in Iraq, and went by the title "Leader of the Faithful." Al-Masri (an Egyptian national also known as Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir), was the military leader of the ISI and head of the group's military wing, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

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By Zainab Al-Deen

Arabs are a proud people, and as one would thus expect, a very stubborn people. We've lived following the same rules and practices for over 1400 years, and no matter how much one criticises, no one outside is going to understand... it's an Arab thing.

When the Western media speak of Arab culture, it is implied there is a single united society. In fact, there are many differences between the Arab countries, differences so diverse that Arabs from one country can be entirely alien to the customs, traditions and dialects of another. It is more appropriate to speak of Arab cultures, shaped by the individual political histories of each country. Obviously there is a common heritage. The Arab Muslim civilisation of past derived from the most advanced empire of its time and laid the foundations for subsequent civilisations (including much that was absorbed by Western/Christian societies). But the modern history of the entire region has been plagued with conflict that unites the states against a perceived shared adversary.

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By George Friedman

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama on March 23. The meeting follows the explosion in U.S.-Israeli relations after Israel announced it was licensing construction of homes in East Jerusalem while U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel. The United States wants Israel to stop all construction of new Jewish settlements. The Israelis argue that East Jerusalem is not part of the occupied territories, and hence, the U.S. demand doesn't apply there. The Americans are not parsing their demand so finely and regard the announcement timed as it was as a direct affront and challenge. Israel's response is that it is a sovereign state and so must be permitted to do as it wishes. The implicit American response is that the United States is also a sovereign state and will respond as it wishes.

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By Fred Burton and Ben West

The assassination of senior Hamas militant leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh on Jan. 19 is still generating a tremendous amount of discussion and speculation some six weeks after the fact. Dubai's police force has been steadily releasing new information almost on a daily basis, which has been driving the news cycle and keeping the story in the media spotlight. The most astounding release so far has been nearly 30 minutes of surveillance camera footage that depicts portions of a period spanning the arrival of the assassination team in Dubai, surveillance of al-Mabhouh, and the killing and the exfiltration of the team some 22 hours later.

By last count, Dubai police claim to have identified some 30 people suspected of involvement in the assassination; approximately 17 have been convincingly tied to the operation through video footage either as surveillants, managers or assassins, with the rest having only tenuous connections based on information released by the Dubai police. In any case, the operation certainly was elaborate and required the resources and planning of a highly organized agency, one most likely working for a nation-state.

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By Kamran Bokhari

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia historically has played a major role in the development of jihadism. Key pillars of the Saudi state - oil, Wahhabism (a conservative form of Sunni Islam) and the strength of tribal norms - were instrumental in facilitating the rise of Islamist extremism and terrorism around the world prior to 9/11. These same pillars allowed Riyadh to contain al Qaeda within Saudi Arabia in the wake of the insurgency that kicked off in the kingdom in 2003-2004. After this success on the home front, Riyadh is still using these pillars to play an international role in counterjihadist efforts - a role welcomed by the United States.

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By David Hoghton-Carter, Research Associate U K Defence Forum

In 1648, a new world order emerged. The Treaty of Westphalia, putting an end to decades of war in continental Europe, set out the basics of the modern idea of the co-equal sovereign nation-state, and laid the foundations for three and a half centuries of international politics. Academics have waxed lyrical about it, students have been bored to tears learning about it, statesmen and politicians have cleaved to it as the cornerstone of the right to see to the affairs of their disparate nations without anyone else arbitrarily telling them what to do.

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by Ariel Cohen, Ph.D. and Owen Graham

After attending the three summits--G-20, NATO, and the EU--President Obama arrived in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday for the final stop on his inaugural European tour. Obama's visit to Turkey highlights the importance Washington attaches to this country as a key regional player, a veteran NATO ally, and an influential Muslim state.

During the NATO summit on Saturday, the alliance unanimously chose Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Denmark's prime minister, as the next secretary general. Turkey was initially against the nomination, however, alleging that Rasmussen was insensitive to

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By Reva Bhalla, Lauren Goodrich and Peter Zeihan

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev reportedly will travel to Turkey in the near future to follow up a recent four-day visit by his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, to Moscow. The Turks and the Russians certainly have much to discuss.

Russia is moving aggressively to extend its influence throughout the former Soviet empire, while Turkey is rousing itself from 90 years of post-Ottoman isolation. Both are clearly ascendant powers, and it would seem logical that the more the two bump up against one other, the more likely they will gird for yet another round in their centuries-old conflict. But while that may be true down the line, the two Eurasian powers have sufficient strategic incentives to work together for now.

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PAKISTAN: A BOGUS THREAT AND THE BIGGER PICTURE

By Scott Stewart and Kamran Bokhari

On March 5, the Saudi Embassy in Islamabad reportedly received threatening e-mails warning of attacks on Saudi interests in Pakistan. According to English-language Pakistani newspaper The Nation, the e-mails purportedly were sent by al Qaeda and threatened attacks on targets such as the Saudi Embassy and Saudi airline facilities in Pakistan.

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By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart

February 12 marked the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Imad Mughniyah, one of Hezbollah's top military commanders. The anniversary was certainly met with rejoicing in Tel Aviv and Washington - in addition to all the Israelis he killed, Mughniyah also had a significant amount of American blood on his hands. But the date will have been met with anger and renewed cries for revenge from Hezbollah's militants, many of whom were recruited, trained or inspired by Mughniyah.

Because of Hezbollah's history of conducting retaliatory attacks after the assassination of its leaders, and the frequent and very vocal calls for retribution for the Mughniyah assassination, many observers (including Stratfor) have been waiting for

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UNICEF says that its latest available data indicates that:

 An estimated 90,000 people have been displaced, including 50,000 children.

 Fewer than 500 displaced people were seeking refuge in three UNRWA emergency shelters, compared to 51,000 people, including 28,560 children, during the peak of displacement (OCHA). Since the resumption of schools on 24 January, the shelters are now in youth centres and other non-school facilities. Most of the displaced are staying with host families, many of whom are overstretched and face shortages of food, non-food items, such as mattresses and blankets, as well as water and electricity.

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By George Friedman

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan exploded during a public discussion with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, recently. Erdogan did not blow up at Peres, but rather at the moderator, Washington Post columnist and associate editor David Ignatius, whom Erdogan accused of giving more time to Peres. Afterward, Erdogan said, "I did not target at all in any way the Israeli people, President Peres or the Jewish people. I am a prime minister, a leader who has expressly stated that anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity."

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Written by Simon Roberts

While Tony Blair, as Middle East envoy, may be finding it difficult to gain direct access to Hamas, Sir Jeremy Greenstock is not. Through his work with the charity Forward Thinking, Sir Jeremy has made direct contact with Hamas and in an interview with BBC Radio Four's Today programme, discusses the merits of open diplomacy.

The whole tenor of the interview is that Hamas and the Palestinian cause is a much misunderstood one. Sir Jeremy cites the fact that Palestinian Muslims are of the Sunni rather than the Shi'ite faction and thus are not beholden to Iran nor do they want to establish a Taliban style government in Gaza.

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By Kamran Bokhari and Reva Bhalla

Israel continues Operation Cast Lead against the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas has been the de facto ruler ever since it seized control of the territory in a June 2007 coup. The Israeli campaign, whose declared primary military aim is to neutralize Hamas' ability to carry out rocket attacks against Israel, has led to the reported deaths of more than 560 Palestinians; the number of wounded is approaching the 3,000 mark (as of 8th January 2009).

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By Dr Robert Crowcroft

By far the biggest fiction in international affairs is the alleged centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian problem to achieving 'world peace' (which itself surely rates as the second biggest fraud). There is a widespread assumption in the West that resolving the disputes between the Israeli state and the Palestinian people who live on its border carries great importance. Indeed the peace process is usually seen as a key component if not the key component of winning the battle against Islamism by discrediting its narrative. The argument goes that the sight of Muslims being oppressed by non-Muslims (not oppressed per se, you will note) deeply antagonises the Islamic world; Muslims feel the need to take up arms, not only against Israel but the rest of us too. British government documentation appears to buy in to this. 'The pursuit of a final settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict remains a top priority for the Foreign Secretary and the Government', David Miliband stated when at the FCO. And of course we are all familiar with the vision for 'two states, living side by side in peace and security'. Thus, peace between Israel and the Palestinians will allegedly give a huge boost to stability across the Middle East; Muslims around the world will be less sympathetic to 'extremism'; and we will all be on the road to peace.

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By Dr Robert Crowcroft

If the priorities of the leaders of Palestine at first sight the victims of the crisis and other Arabs are gesture and power-politics rather than peace, where does that leave the priorities of everyone else? Israel's adherence to the peace process and the 'need' to solve the issue is very similar: an elaborate fiction. Why does the problem of the Palestinians need to be solved so desperately? It doesn't. And Israel knows it. Rockets fired into Israel are certainly annoying, and demand retaliation. But, as described in Part I, the rockets are largely a gesture by Hamas, all part of the image of resisting the ghastly Zionists; the reality is that the terrorist threat on Israel's border is easily containable with occasional military incursions.

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By George Friedman

It is August 2010, which is the month when the last U.S. combat troops are scheduled to leave Iraq. It is therefore time to take stock of the situation in Iraq, which has changed places with Afghanistan as the forgotten war. This is all the more important since 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq, and while they may not be considered combat troops, a great deal of combat power remains embedded with them. So we are far from the end of the war in Iraq. The question is whether the departure of the last combat units is a significant milestone and, if it is, what it signifies.

The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 with three goals: The first was the destruction of the Iraqi army, the second was the destruction of the Baathist regime and the third was the replacement of that regime with a stable, pro-American government in Baghdad. The first two goals were achieved within weeks. Seven years later, however, Iraq still does not yet have a stable government, let alone a pro-American government. The lack of that government is what puts the current strategy in jeopardy.

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