Bahrain – An explosion wounded two civilian passers-by in Bahrain, the interior ministry said early on the 15 Feb 17 as demonstrators were marking the sixth anniversary of an anti-government uprising that was bloodily suppressed. The ministry did not say what caused 14 Feb 17 evening's blast in a village outside the capital Manama but demonstrators sometimes throw petrol bombs during the sporadic protests that still grip the Sunni-ruled but Shiite-majority kingdom. "Terrorist blast in Sitra causes minor injuries to a married couple passing the site. Police at the scene," the ministry said on its Twitter account without elaborating. It also tweeted a picture of a black 4X4 with a shattered windscreen and significant damage to the front bonnet. The blast came as demonstrators clashed with police in Manama and several nearby villages. The demonstration in the capital ended when police fired tear gas and stun grenades, witnesses said. Activists posted pictures of injured protesters online, but the interior ministry has not published any official statements about the reported demonstrations. The Shiite-led protests of February 2011 sought a constitutional monarchy and an elected prime minister to replace the current government dominated by the ruling Al-Khalifa family. Authorities crushed them the following month with the support of Saudi-led forces who secured key installations. Since then, the authorities have banned the Shiite opposition and handed long jail terms too many of its leaders. Some have been stripped of their citizenship.
Da’esh – The Iraqi air force has targeted a meeting of commanders from the ISIS group that its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may have been attending, a statement said on the 13 Feb 17. It was not clear in the statement sent by the Joint Operations Command coordinating the fight against the jihadists in Iraq whether the world's most wanted terrorist had been hit. An intelligence cell monitored a convoy that the statement said transported Baghdadi from the area of Raqa, the jihadists' main Syrian stronghold, across the border to the Al-Qaim area in western Iraq. The statement said Iraqi air force F-16 jets struck a meeting of top IS commanders on the 11 Feb 17, but did not make clear whether Baghdadi was present. "The direct strike on the meeting location led to the death of 13 Da’esh (IS) commanders," said the statement, which provided a list of names. The Iraq-born Baghdadi, who proclaimed a "caliphate" straddling Iraq and Syria in June 2014, was not one of those names. Iraq's military said dozens of other ISIS militants were also killed in other strikes in the same area as part of the operation. 361 COMMENT: Reports of this nature have been published in the past so without conclusive evidence al-Baghdadi will still be operating from wherever his head quarters currently are. COMMENT ENDS
Da’esh – The deputy commander of Operation Inherent Resolve briefed the media here via videoconference from Baghdad on the 16 Feb 17 discussing progress in Syria and Iraq and updating stabilization efforts that set conditions for normality to return once the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is defeated. Beginning with the counter-ISIS fight in Syria, British Army Maj. Gen. Rupert Jones said the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian Arab Coalition continue to pressure and isolate Raqqa. "Since they started the operations on the 5 Nov 16 they've liberated more than 3,900 square kilometres of territory as they advance from the north-northwest and now northeast of Raqqa liberating tens of thousands of people from ISIS," he said. Arab forces are doing most of the fighting and many more are being recruited and trained as they march south, Jones added, noting that ISIS is defending robustly but they're losing fighters, leaders and resources.
The coalition continues conducting strikes in support of its partners in Syria, he said, destroying 16 command-and-control facilities and more than 30 supply and logistics nodes that the enemy used to store weapons, ammunition and supplies. "We're increasing coalition airstrikes against ISIS in and around Raqqa," Jones said, "targeting their leaders and command -and-control architecture. The enemy is under pressure on all fronts." In Bab, to the west of Raqqa, the general said that Turkey and their partner forces are squeezing ISIS out of the city and the coalition continues to support them with air strikes. "As they advance they're discovering a vast tunnel network beneath the city, a tactic we've seen in other areas the enemy has controlled. Soon we expect to see the city fully liberated after weeks of heavy fighting," Jones said.
In Iraq, the Iraqi forces continue preparing to liberate western Mosul. The 16th Iraqi Army Division supported by police and thousands of tribal forces moved into the east side of the city, the general said, to provide security to the population and keep the enemy from reinfiltrating or using sleeper cells. "The enemy has tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate back into the east of the city and has indiscriminately fired mortars, rockets and artillery into liberated areas on more than 300 occasions in the last week." Jones said, "With characteristic disdain for human life." The general said that tactic and their use of commercial-off-the-shelf drones is all they have left to attack the east "as they await their fate." The ISIS use of drones is an increasingly insidious threat in Iraq, he added, noting that they're used for surveillance but also to drop grenades and other explosive munitions on innocent civilians in east Mosul and elsewhere. "While this is a typically inhumane and indiscriminate weapon by [ISIS]," Jones said, "it's not a game-changer. We've got technical defences to mitigate against it." ISIS still holds about 750,000 people in western Mosul and must now be dealt with, he added. "Soon, and at a time of their choosing, the Iraqi security forces will move in to start the liberation of west Mosul," the general said. The fight for Mosul will not be easy, he warned. "The tight streets and alleyways of the old city will be tough to clear. But the Iraqi forces have adapted to ISIS's tactics and they will drive back the enemy whose finite resources wane with each passing day."
After the Battle
Reflecting on what will follow the battle for Mosul, Jones said that in 2016, Iraqi forces retook from ISIS an area the size of New Jersey. This returned freedom to about 2 million Iraqis and Syrians. But scars will remain long after the battle, the general said. During their occupation by ISIS, cities like Ramadi and Fallujah suffered major infrastructure damage, areas were riddled with explosive devices and booby traps were hidden in homes, schools and hospitals, all meant to kill and maim innocent civilians, Jones added. Since its liberation last year about 26,000 kilograms of explosives have been removed from Ramadi, he said, letting 80 percent of the population to return to their homes. In Fallujah, about 200,000 people have returned and across the whole of Anbar, where ISIS banned education, more than 1,200 schools now are open and more than 300,000 children and 16,000 teachers are back in the classroom, he said, noting that all this follows great efforts of the government of Iraq, the United Nations, and a host of international organizations. "It's tough, grinding work," Jones said, "and for the people who've been traumatized by ISIS's campaign of terror, the work can't be done soon enough."
Gaza Strip – Two Palestinian civilians were killed and five others were wounded in an air strike that hit a tunnel in Gaza near the Egyptian border. It was unclear who launched the attack on the 9 Feb 17. A Palestinian official blamed Israel; however, a military spokeswoman denied any knowledge of the strike. Ashraf al-Qedra, Gaza's health ministry spokesperson, said in a statement the two men were "martyred and five other people were wounded as a result of being targeted by an Israeli warplane along the Palestinian-Egyptian borders". According to al-Qedra, the two men killed were identified as Hossam al-Sufi, 24, and Mohammed al-Aqra, 38. An Israeli military spokeswoman said she was unaware of the attack, which happened pre-dawn between the Gaza Strip and Rafah on the Egyptian side of the border. The incident took place after at least three rockets were fired from the Sinai Peninsula into Israel's southernmost resort city of Eilat late on the 8 Feb 17. The Israeli army said in a statement its missile defence system, known as the "Iron Dome", intercepted the rockets, preventing any casualties or damage. Israeli media reported a group affiliated with the Islamic State of the Iraq and the Levant claimed responsibility for the attack on Eilat. Since 2013, Egypt has largely shut off its border with Gaza, blocking nearly 2,000 tunnels connecting Gaza with Rafah, stemming the flow of much-needed goods and resources. Egypt recently eased some border restrictions with Gaza.
Gaza Strip/Hamas – Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas elected a hard-line member of its armed wing as its new Gaza head on 13 Feb 17 Hamas officials said. "Yahya Sinwar was elected to head the Hamas political office in the Gaza Strip", the officials said. He will succeed Ismail Haniya, who is seen by many observers as the most likely successor to Hamas's current exiled leader Khaled Meshaal. In Sep 15 Sinwar was added to the US terrorism blacklist alongside two other members of Hamas's military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades. A graduate in Arabic, he was born in the Khan Younis refugee camp in southern Gaza and founded "Majd," one of Hamas's intelligence services. Arrested by Israel in 1988 for "terrorist activity," Sinwar was sentenced to four life sentences. He was released in Oct 11 under an agreement to exchange more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured five years earlier. Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip for a decade, has been conducting internal elections for several months. The process is shrouded in mystery and it is unclear when the other appointments will be announced. After his release from jail, Sinwar initially made a number of public appearances. Later, however, he disappeared from public view and was presented in Hamas media as the commander of al-Qassam's elite units. Influential and close to many Hamas military leaders, Sinwar represents for some observers the hardest line within the Islamist movement. Washington accuses him of continuing to advocate kidnapping of Israeli soldiers as a bargaining chip for Palestinian prisoners. Hamas currently claims to have four Israelis in captivity in Gaza, though Israel says the two soldiers among them were killed in the 2014 war. Kobi Michael, an analyst and former head of the Palestinian Desk at Israel's Ministry for Strategic Affairs, said the appointment would cause alarm among Israeli politicians. "He represents the most radical and extreme line of Hamas," he told reporters. "Sinwar believes in armed resistance. He doesn't believe in any sort of cooperation with Israel." Israel has fought three wars with Hamas since 2008, the last of which in 2014. The Jewish state maintains a crippling blockade on Gaza which it says is necessary to maintain Hamas but which the United Nations says amounts to collective punishment.
Iran/United States – President Donald Trump’s national security advisor signalled a toughening US stance on Iran on the 1 Feb 17 condemning a recent missile test and declaring America was “officially putting Iran on notice.” In his first public remarks since taking office, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn accused former president Barack Obama’s administration of having “failed to respond adequately to Tehran’s malign actions.” Citing a recent missile test and the actions of Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen, Flynn said “Iran is now feeling emboldened.” “As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice,” he said without elaborating. Both Trump and Flynn have been vocal opponents of an international deal that saw Iran curb its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
Iran/Germany – German intelligence believes that Iran has tested a nuclear-capable cruise missile, the German newspaper Die Welt reported on the 2 Feb 17. In addition to a ballistic missile test that Iran itself revealed, Germany believes that Iran also test-fired a Sumar cruise missile, which could have a range of 2,000-3,000 kilometres (1,250-1,875 miles) and could reach Germany at its maximum capability. In its test, the Sumar successfully travelled 600 kilometres (375 miles), a little less than half the distance to Israel. Cruise missiles can travel at a lower altitude than ballistic missiles and also have radar-evading capabilities, making them harder to counter. Iran may be pursuing this course because unlike with ballistic missiles, Iran is not explicitly banned by the United Nations Security Council from developing cruise missiles, a security expert explained to Die Welt. However, if Iran is developing a nuclear-capable missile, it undercuts its claim, often made in defence of its ballistic missile program, that nuclear weapons have “no place” in Iran’s defence doctrine. The semi-official Tasnim news agency recently stated that “nuclear weapons have basically no place in the Islamic Republic’s defense doctrine.” A 2016 report (.pdf) from the Congressional Research Service quoted a number of high-ranking Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, making similar assertions. The Sumar was unveiled in March 2015 and is based on the Russian Kh-55 missile. German intelligence reports leaked in 2014 and 2015 showed that Iran sought to purchase technologies for nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. National Security Advisor Michael Flynn said that in response to Iran’s ballistic missile testing and support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the United States was putting Iran “on notice” and would not tolerate Iran’s continued violations of international norms. This article is published courtesy of The Tower
Iran/United States – Iran is to deploy missiles for a Revolutionary Guards exercise on the 4 Feb 17 in a show of defiance a day after the United States imposed sanctions over a ballistic missile test launch last weekend. Relations between Washington and Tehran have deteriorated sharply since Donald Trump took office last month promising a tough line on what he sees as Iranian belligerency towards US interests and allies. Hours after the new US sanctions were announced, Pentagon chief James Mattis charged that Iran was "the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world." The new sanctions are the first of Trump's presidency and target what US officials say is Iran's weapons procurement network in Lebanon and China. They are a response to Iran's test launch of a medium-range ballistic missile on the 29 Jan 17 as well as its support for Yemeni rebels who attacked a Saudi frigate.
Iran's medium-range missiles can reach 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles), sufficient to strike Israel or US bases in the Gulf. But the Revolutionary Guards said that the missiles deployed for the recent exercise would only be of very short range -- up to 75 kilometres (47 miles). They said the manoeuvres in the north-eastern province of Semnan were aimed at demonstrating their "complete preparedness to deal with the threats" and "humiliating sanctions" from Washington. "Different types of domestically produced radar and missile systems, command and control centres, and cyber warfare systems will be used in this exercise," the Guards' website said. The new sanctions do not yet mean that Washington has abandoned commitments it made to lift measures aimed at Iran's nuclear programme, US officials said. But Trump has made no secret of his contempt for that accord, which his predecessor Barack Obama approved in July 2015, and officials said Friday's measures would not be the last. Iran's vice president on the 4 Feb 17 urged calm heads to prevail. "These are worn-out accusations against Iran and even the (accuser) himself is ashamed of saying it," state news agency IRNA quoted Eshagh Jahangiri as saying."If this nation is talked to respectfully and issues are resolved through negotiations and dialogue it can be a win for everyone." But General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, who is overseeing the drills, struck a more strident tone. "If the enemy makes a mistake, our missiles will land on them," he was quoted as saying by the Guards' official site. Tehran also vowed to impose "legal limitations" on Americans it says are involved in creating and supporting "extreme terrorist groups." It said it would publish a list of names later. US intelligence and Treasury officials are constantly scrutinising Iran's networks, looking for evidence of extremist funding and advanced weapons procurement. But Mattis said Washington had no immediate plans to increase troop numbers in the Middle East. A defence official said the US Navy had sent a destroyer to waters off Yemen in response to the attack on the Saudi frigate. The USS Cole, which had been conducting operations in the Gulf, is now stationed in the Bab al-Mandab strait, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, which links the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. Tehran says its missiles do not breach UN resolutions because they are for defence purposes only and are not designed to carry nuclear warheads.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on the 3 Feb 17 that Iran would "never initiate a war", despite facing threats, "but we can only rely on our own means of defence." The missile row is just one of a raft of issues souring relations between Tehran and the Trump White House.
Iran/United States – Days after the Trump administration imposed new sanctions on Iran, Vice President Mike Pence issued a stern warning to the country in an interview with ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos. “Iran would do well not to test the resolve of this new president,” Pence said on “This Week” on the 5 Feb 17 adding that Iran should “think twice about their continued hostile and belligerent actions.” When Stephanopoulos pressed the vice president on what actions by Iran would test Trump’s resolve, the vice president specifically mentioned the country’s ballistic missile tests and military support for Houthi militias in Yemen. Asked how the US would respond to another provocation, Pence answered that the “president said everything’s on the table” – including military action. Pence told Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week” that Iran’s provocative tone is an insult to the nuclear deal the country reached with the Obama administration, five other major powers, and the European Union. “Iran should be standing up and be essentially working with the world community. But instead, what we see is this kind of belligerent and hostile behaviour, defiant behaviour to the world community,” the vice president said.
Iran/Militia Training Camps/United States – The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) has revealed the locations of 14 Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force training camps, spread in various regions in Iran. According to NCRI, These IRGC training camps are designed to train members of sectarian militia members from Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. In a press conference in Washington on the 14 Feb 17 the deputy director of the US Representative Office of the NCRI, Reza Jafarzadeh, said the “Iranian extremist regime is sponsoring all extremism in the region.” Jafarzadeh said that the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) was able to unveil details about several training camps across Iran, the most important of which is the training directorate of the Quds Force extended over 100 thousand square meters. This directorate includes several IRGC garrisons and is headquartered at the Imam Ali garrison. The commander of this directorate is General Rahimi, IRGC veteran close to Qassem Soleimani. Rahimi followed the Top Advisor to IRGC’s commander, Brigadier General Khosro Orouj who participated in the 33-days war in Lebanon with Hezbollah. The training is divided into two stages, the first of which is for 45 days where Malali regime agents from Syria are trained to be sent on military missions. As for those who are permanently recruited in the Quds Force, they will be trained for a period varying between 9 to 12 months in undisclosed and isolated units. During the past few years, the Quds Force has been secretly enrolling a number of mercenaries from Latin America (Venezuela, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia) at the Imam Ali Garrison. The training camps that fall under the Quds Force are the Imam Ali Garrison, Mustaha Khomeini Garrison, Baadindeh Center in Varamin, Amel Center at the Malek Ashtar Camp, Semnan Center, Mashhad Center, Pazouki Garrison, Lowshan Garrison, Chamran Garison, the Telecabin Axis, Abadan and Ahvaz cities as well as the Shahrayar Garrison. In his press conference, Jafarzadeh also spoke about nuclear weapons, saying that the IRGC has been working on acquiring nuclear weapons since 1984. He highlighted that the IRGC is a key source in exporting terrorist networks and that this is “more dangerous than obtaining a nuclear bomb.” He added that Article 151 of the Iranian constitution stresses that the mission of the IRGC is to protect the revolution and its achievements and thus, “protect the dictatorship that is based on oppression, exporting terrorism and extremism, as well as acquiring a nuclear bomb.”
Iraq – A car bomb exploded in an industrial area of south Baghdad on the 14 Feb 17 killing at least four people, Iraqi police said. "The blast was caused by a parked car bomb in an industrial area," home to many car maintenance workshops and companies in Bayaa, a neighbourhood with a mixed Sunni and Shiite population, a police colonel said. He said at least four people were killed and 14 wounded, a casualty toll confirmed by hospital sources. The Iraqi capital was rocked by a wave of deadly suicide bombings during the first days of 2017 but relatively few explosions have been reported since. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast in Bayaa. Nearly all suicide attacks are claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group, which is currently defending its last major Iraqi bastion of Mosul against a massive, four-month-old operation by the security forces.
Iraq – A suicide bomber detonated a pick-up truck packed with explosives in northern Baghdad on the 15 Feb 17 killing at least nine people, according to Iraqi officials. Thirty more were wounded in the powerful blast in the Habibiya area, near Sadr City, a Shia-majority neighbourhood in the Iraqi capital. The explosion targeted a crowded street full of garages and used car dealers. The attack came a day after a car bomb explosion in southern Baghdad killed at least four people. The Iraqi capital was rocked by a wave of deadly suicide bombings during the first days of 2017 but relatively few explosions had been reported since. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Wednesday's blast, but nearly all suicide attacks are claimed by the Da’esh group.
Israel/Hamas – Israel struck a Hamas position in Gaza after a “projectile” fired from the Palestinian enclave on the 6 Feb 17 crashed in a border area, the Israeli army said. “Initial inquiry suggests a projectile launched from the Gaza Strip landed in an open area,” an army statement said, with no injuries reported. In response, the army added, “an (Israeli) tank targeted a Hamas post in the northern Gaza Strip.” A security source from Hamas, the Gaza Strip’s Islamist rulers, said two posts were targeted, causing no injuries. The last rocket fire from Gaza into Israel occurred in October. Since the devastating conflict of 2014, Israel and Hamas have observed a fragile ceasefire along the largely closed border. Missiles and rockets are occasionally fired at Israel but are often attributed to other Islamist groups inside impoverished Gaza. The Israeli army usually retaliates by striking Hamas positions, which it holds responsible for the territory.
Israel/Hezbollah – The Israel Defence Forces is preparing for a possible Hezbollah incursion using marines and other naval commandos in the country’s north, Ynet reported the 6 Feb 17. A group of commandos could try to infiltrate north of Nahariya while protected by mortar and anti-tank fire from Lebanon, the IDF believes. It also believes that Hezbollah will attempt to capture Israeli territory and hold it, even temporarily, in order to declare a victory against Israel. Both the army and navy are preparing for a raid, which is similar to Hamas’s attempted assault on Kibbutz Zikim during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. However, Hezbollah would have more significant operational capabilities than Hamas did for such an attack, due to Hezbollah’s recent battle experience in the Syrian Civil War and its continued support from Iran and Syria. In order to defend against such an attack, Israel has deployed a network of sensors to detect and prevent a breach of Israel’s naval perimeter. The Israeli Navy’s 914th division has been practicing defending against such possibilities together with the Golani Brigade’s 51st Regiment, which is charged with defending the coastline. Navy Lt. Col. Ronen Mirkam pointed out Lebanese ships sailing in the Mediterranean to Ynet’s Yoav Zitun and observed, “That kind of ship or jet ski could reach Israeli shores in no time. That is why we’re here 24/7, assisted by observation posts ashore and other means to combat this threat, that as far as we’re concerned could come at any moment, with no warning or notice from military intelligence.” Hezbollah’s growing military capabilities, especially due to increased Iranian support, have been an Israeli concern for years. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah admitted last June that “Hezbollah’s budget, its income, its expenses, everything it eats and drinks, its weapons and rockets, are from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” and insisted that the Lebanese terrorist organization “will not be affected” by new sanctions against his group. “As long as Iran has money, we have money… Just as we receive the rockets that we use to threaten Israel, we are receiving our money. No law will prevent us from receiving it,” he added. Nasrallah’s acknowledgement of Iranian aid seems to confirm a public assurance given to him in August 2015 by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that the nuclear deal Iran reached with global powers presented “a historic opportunity” to confront Israel. Iran recently announced that its defence spending would increase by 90 percent in the coming year. According to a July 2016 report published by the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, Israeli officials believe that any future war with Hezbollah has the potential to cause “thousands of civilian deaths” in Israel. Hezbollah has, among other things, threatened to attack ammonium tanks in Haifa, which could kill tens of thousands of people. The think tank’s vice president for research, Jonathan Schanzer, explained that Hezbollah’s widely-reported tactic of hiding military assets in civilian areas would also lead to mass casualties. Reports emerged two years ago that Hezbollah was offering reduced-price housing to Shiite families who allowed the terrorist group to store rocket launchers in their homes. An Israeli defence official told the New York Times in May 2015 that the buildup of Hezbollah’s terror infrastructure in southern Lebanese villages meant that “civilians are living in a military compound” and that their lives were at risk. A few days later, a newspaper linked to Hezbollah bolstered the Israeli assessment. This article is published courtesy of The Tower
Jordan/Da’esh – Jordan said late on the 4 Feb 17 that its warplanes bombed positions held by Da’esh group in southern Syria, two years after one of its pilots was captured and killed by the armed group. Friday's (3 Feb 17) strikes came on the second anniversary of ISIL's release of video showing pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh being burned alive in a cage after his aircraft crashed in Syria in Dec 14. "Jordanian Air Force planes, in memory of our martyrs who have fallen in our war against terrorism, on the evening of the 3 Feb 17 targeted various positions of the terrorist gang Da’esh in southern Syria," the military said in a statement. It said the strikes against targets including a captured former Syrian army base killed and wounded several ISIL members and destroyed an arms depot, a car bomb workshop and a barracks. Jordanian forces used drones and precision-guided munitions in the operation, which was part of the "kingdom's efforts to eradicate the terrorist group", it said. The kingdom is part of an international coalition battling Da’esh in Syria and Iraq. The strikes came as an alliance of US-backed fighters began a new phase of its campaign on the ISIL-held city of Raqqa in northern Syria, aiming to complete its encirclement of the group's stronghold.
Jordon/Da’esh – Several observers remain concerned that, even as Da’esh loses territory in Iraq and Syria, the group will use its networks elsewhere, such as in Jordan, to continue attacking its enemies in 2017, a US Congressional research service paper said and reported on the 13 Feb 17. The research, titled “Jordan: Background and US Relations” and issued at the end of January, 2017, by researcher Jeremy M. Sharp, specialist in Middle Eastern affairs, said however that these small-scale attacks have failed to threaten the Kingdom’s overall stability. In addition to the threat of Da’esh, the document listed other potential regional challenges to the country’s stability. “In early 2017, Jordan is facing a confluence of regional threats that have the potential to undermine its domestic stability,” the report warned. “Over the past year, Islamic State [Da’esh]-directed or inspired terrorist attacks inside the Kingdom have grown more frequent. The Syrian refugee population has continued to place strains on the economy and social fabric”, the report read. The document also mentioned the serious consequences of Donald Trump’s US administration pushing ahead with plans to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. “A Trump administration proposal to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem may spark Palestinian and pan Arab protest at a time when the Jordanian government is already facing domestic criticism for alleged security lapses, corruption, and mismanaging of the economy,” the research said. Meanwhile, the research added that Jordanian and US authorities are concerned not only with Da’esh infiltration into the Kingdom, but also with the radicalisation of Jordanians who have fought in Syria. “The Kingdom is home to several areas where manifestations of antigovernment sentiment are high, economic prospects are poor, and sympathy for violent extremist groups appears to be prevalent,” the paper said, adding that one study on radicalisation in Jordan found that since 2011, nearly 4,000 Jordanians have fought in Syria and Iraq.
Lebanon – Lebanese security forces arrested two alleged members of a "terrorist group" suspected of planning a suicide attack in central Beirut, security services said on the 8 Feb 17. The arrests come two weeks after an attempted suicide attack at a cafe in a popular shopping district of the capital was foiled and the alleged attacker detained. The suspects, a Lebanese and a Palestinian, were detained for "belonging to a terrorist group", the General Security force said in a statement. It did not say when they were taken into custody. Al-Akhbar newspaper reported on the 7 Feb 17 that General Security had thwarted an attack by the Islamic State group in central Beirut, which it said had recruited a Lebanese official in charge of security cameras in the district. In its statement on the 8 Feb 17 General Security said the Lebanese suspect had "confessed that he monitored the movements and addresses of political figures and their convoys crossing the city centre." He had worked with the Palestinian to plan a suicide attack in the centre of the Lebanese capital, it said. Lebanon's security services claim to have prevented several attacks in recent months.
Lebanon/Hezbollah/United Nations – The United Nations warned Lebanese President Michel Aoun against arming Hezbollah, a day after Aoun said that the Iran-backed terrorist organization was essential to Lebanon’s security. Sigrid Kaag, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, tweeted on the 13 Feb 17 “Recalling SCR 1701 vital 4 Lebanon’s stability-security. Resolution calls 4 disarmament all armed groups. No arms outside control of state.” UN Council Resolution 1701, which was adopted unanimously to end the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, called for the disarming of all militias in Lebanon and the re-establishment of the Lebanese government’s authority over the southern part of the country, and prohibited the transfer of arms to any entity other than the government in Lebanon. Hezbollah’s continued armed presence in southern Lebanon violates these three elements of the resolution. Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, said on the 12 Feb 17 that Hezbollah’s weapons “do not contradict the state and are an essential part of defending Lebanon. As long as the Lebanese army lacks sufficient power to face Israel, we feel the need for (Hezbollah’s) arsenal because it complements the army’s role.” He said in Jan 17 that Iran’s support for the group “could continue indefinitely.” Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, a Sunni, countered Aoun’s statements on the 14 Feb 17 by calling Hezbollah’s arsenal illegitimate. In The Times of Israel on the 13 Feb 17 journalist Avi Issacharoff explained that the Israeli military is increasingly concerned about deepening cooperation between Hezbollah and the Lebanese army. The situation is especially delicate because the Lebanese army receives much of its weaponry from the United States. “In southern Lebanon, it’s Hezbollah that calls the shots,” Issacharoff wrote. “There is no village in the south (with the possible exception of several Sunni villages) that has not been transformed into a fortified bastion of Hezbollah, which possesses an entire array of command and control, communications systems, and a variety of arms including rockets (of course) and anti-tank weapons.” An Israeli defence official explained in 2015 that the build-up of Hezbollah’s terror infrastructure in southern Lebanese villages meant that “civilians are living in a military compound” and that their lives were at risk. Hezbollah reportedly has an arsenal of 130,000 rockets, more than the combined total of all twenty-seven non-U.S. NATO member states. This article is published courtesy of The Tower
Lebanon/Hezbollah – Reports have recently begun to appear again in the Lebanese press regarding military activity by Hezbollah south of the Litani River, on the Lebanon-Israel border, in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, and on the organization's increasing strength in the last few years, especially due to its military involvement in the Syria war. The Lebanese press reported, inter alia, that Hezbollah has tunnels on the Israeli border and that it possesses advanced weapons provided by Iran and Syria that disrupt the balance of power vis-à-vis Israel. It has also been reported that Hezbollah is cooperating with Hamas's military wing, the 'Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades. The reports on Hezbollah’s military activity in South Lebanon are corroborated by the organization's own statement, from January 17, 2017, that its operatives had found the wreckage of an Israeli drone that had crashed near the border two days earlier and were examining it "in a safe location." The following are excerpts from the reports on Hizbullah's activity in south Lebanon: Ibrahim Al-Amin, board chairman of the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, wrote in a January 24, 2017 editorial that Hezbollah’s military, security and intelligence capabilities have grown in the recent years. This, he said, is manifest in the organization's ability to lay down the rules of the confrontation with Israel; in the extensive and varied arsenal of weapons it possesses, provided by Syria and Iran, which includes 'game-changing' weapons; in its presence not only on the Lebanon-Israel border but on the Syria-Israel border; in its transformation into a major player in Syria, Iraq and Yemen which also has considerable influence in other locations and sensitive arenas in the Arab and Muslim world, and in its ongoing cooperation with Hamas's military wing. Amin implied that the Israeli assessment that Hezbollah is capable of firing 1,500 missiles a day underestimates the organization's true capabilities. He wrote: "Re-examining the arena of direct confrontation [between Israel] and Hezbollah, we notice something that greatly worries the enemy's leadership: [that] the enemy has failed in his vigorous efforts to change the rules of the confrontation with the resistance [i.e., Hezbollah] along the border front. [Israel's] targeted killings of senior resistance operatives compelled Hezbollah’s leadership to [present a] scale of increasingly harsh retaliatory measures, up to and including readiness to enter an all-out confrontation. This forced the enemy to avoid direct military action on Lebanese soil, including localized operations." (To read the full report follow the link provided – https://www.memri.org/reports/lebanese-dailies-hizbullah-possesses-balance-disrupting-weapons-provided-iran-has-tunnels)
Saudi Arabia/Somaliland – Somalia’s breakaway northern territory of Somaliland has said the UAE can establish a military base in its territory. The UAE government in January submitted a formal application seeking permission from the Somaliland government to open a military base in the port town of Berbera. The parliament of Somaliland on the 12 Feb 17 approved the UAE plan. The plan is controversial and the neighbouring countries of Ethiopia and Djibouti are opposed to it, according to local reports. In Sunday’s vote 144 lawmakers were in favour of the military base, two voted against and two abstained. Nine others opposed to the base shouted against President Ahmed Silanyo and were led out of the chamber by soldiers. Silanyo had spoken in favour of the base, saying it would create jobs in Somaliland. The plan follows a multimillion dollar, 30-year contract for UAE’s international ports operator, DP World, to manage Somaliland’s largest port, Berbera. The former British protectorate of Somaliland declared a unilateral independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991 and has succeeded in establishing peace and stability. But no country has so far recognized it as an independent state. 361 COMMENT: By having a military shipping port in Somalia the Saudi Government is in an excellent position to police the Yemen area of the Bab al Mandab and the Gulf of Aden therefore shutting off an Iranian supply route for the Shiite Houthi group. COMMENT ENDS
Saudi Arabia/Da’esh – Saudi Arabia has dismantled at least four Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) cells made up of 18 individuals inside the kingdom, officials from the interior ministry confirmed. Fifteen of those arrested were Saudi nationals while the remaining three were from Yemen and Sudan, the ministry said in statements made on the 16 Feb 17. The ministry also said that ISIS cells in Saudi Arabia have spread to Mecca, Medina, Riyadh and Qassim regions of the country. In addition, nearly two million riyals were confiscated from the cells upon arrest. “Some of those arrested were involved with supplying materials to the ISIS cells in the al-Yasmeen cells in Riyadh and others were linked to the two suicide attackers in Harazat rest area of Jeddah, both of which were dismantled in recent months,” said Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, spokesperson for Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry.
Syria/Aleppo/Chemical Weapons – Syrian government forces used chemical weapons in opposition-controlled parts of Aleppo during battles to retake the city late last year, Human Rights Watch said in a report published on the 13 Feb 17. The findings add to mounting evidence of the use of banned chemical weapons in the six-year-old Syrian civil war and could strengthen calls by Britain, France and the United States for sanctions against Syrian officials. Government helicopters dropped chlorine bombs “in residential areas in Aleppo on at least eight occasions between November 17 and December 13, 2016,” the New York-based group said. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which oversees a global treaty banning toxic warfare, had no immediate comment. Syria and its ally Russia, which helped state troops in the Aleppo assault, have repeatedly denied using chemical weapons in the conflict. They blame opposition militants seeking to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Human Rights Watch said its report, which was based on interviews with witnesses, analysis of videos and photos and social media posts, did not find proof of Russian involvement in the chemical attacks, but noted Moscow’s key role in helping the government to retake Aleppo. “The attacks, some of which included multiple munitions, killed at least nine civilians, including four children, and injured around 200,” it said. Ole Solvang, deputy emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, said in an interview that the way chemical attacks moved in step with the frontline showed they were an integral part of the offensive. “This is a strong indication that these chlorine attacks were coordinated with the overall military strategy. And it is a strong indication then that senior military officers, the commanders of this military offensive in Aleppo, knew that chlorine was being used,” he said. A UN-OPCW inquiry assigned to identify organizations and individuals responsible for the chemical attacks concluded in Oct 16 that Syrian government forces had used chlorine as a chemical weapon at least three times in 2014-15. Islamic State militants, it said, had used sulphur mustard gas in one attack. The UN Security Council extended the mandate of the inquiry, known as the Joint Investigative Mission (JIM), until November this year. It is due to issue its next report by Saturday. Responding to the JIM’s findings, the United States last month blacklisted 18 senior Syrian officials it said were connected to the country’s weapons of mass destruction program. Reuters reported in January that leading Syrian officials, including President Assad and his brother, had been identified as possible suspects in the chemical attacks. Chlorine’s use as a weapon is banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined in 2013. If inhaled, chlorine gas turns into hydrochloric acid in the lungs and can kill by burning lungs and drowning victims in the resulting body fluids.
Syria/Terrorist Groups – Syrian Islamist fighters have executed scores of insurgents in the west of the country in an increasingly bloody battle between different militant groups, the SITE Intelligence Group said. An offshoot of the Jund al-Aqsa group killed more than 150 members of rebel factions in the village of Khan Sheikhoun in southern Idlib province, the U.S.-based monitoring service reported on the 15 Feb 17. Dozens of those executed were members of a Free Syrian Army (FSA) faction, it said, citing a pro-al Qaeda social media outlet. The rest included members of the Tahrir al-Sham alliance, which includes the former al Qaeda branch in Syria, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. Jund al-Aqsa is seen as ideologically close to Islamic State, al Qaeda's main jihadist rival. Fighting between Jund al-Aqsa and Tahrir al-Sham has flared in the past week, in clashes that war monitors say have killed dozens. Those clashes have added to the complexity of insurgent infighting in the west of the country. Both Tahrir al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa are also fighting against FSA rebel factions who have been foreign-backed. Jihadist groups attacked the FSA for sending delegates to peace talks in Kazakhstan last month. Many of those FSA groups are now fighting under the banner of the more moderate but powerful Islamist Ahrar al-Sham.
Yemen/United States/al-Qaeda – Al-Qaeda is gaining ground in Yemen and could benefit from military actions like the deadly raid by elite US forces ordered by President Donald Trump, the International Crisis Group warned on the 3 Feb 17. "The Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda is stronger than it has ever been," ICG said in a report documenting the spread of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). "The first military actions by the Trump administration in Yemen bode poorly for the prospect of smartly and effectively countering AQAP," read the report, released after the 29 Jan 17 US air raid in central Yemen. While Washington has said at least 14 suspected jihadists and one US Navy SEAL were killed in the strike, ICG said the death toll included "many civilians, including at least 10 women and children". The think-tank warned that strikes like the 29 Jan 17 raid on Baida province could increase fear of or even hostility towards the United States among civilians, providing fertile ground for recruitment by AQAP. "The use of US soldiers, high civilian casualties and disregard for local tribal and political dynamics plays into AQAP's narrative of defending Muslims against the West and could increase anti-US sentiment and with it AQAP's pool of recruits," said the Brussels-based ICG. With its key role in regional politics, Trump's White House also stands to impact efforts to find a political solution to Yemen's conflict which has killed more than 7,400 people since March 2015, according to the World Health Organization. "These efforts will be imperilled if states interested in fighting AQAP and Yemen's nascent Islamic State (IS) branch, such as the US, take military actions that ignore the local context or fail to restrain partners who tolerate or even encourage AQAP/IS activities," added the 35-page report. The US raid was said to have targeted the houses of three tribal chiefs linked to Al-Qaeda. The provincial official said Apache helicopters also hit a school, a mosque and a medical facility which were all used by Al-Qaeda militants. AQAP said in a statement that 30 people died in the raid, "only women and children with some tribal leaders who have no connections" to the group.
Yemen/al-Qaeda – Al-Qaeda in Yemen has taken over three southern towns just days after a deadly US special operations raid targeting its commanders, a security official and tribal sources said on the 3 Feb 17. The jihadist advance into the Abyan province towns of Loder, Shaqra and Ahwar came as the White House defended the 29 Jan 17 raid on an Al-Qaeda compound as a "success". Abyan has long been an Al-Qaeda stronghold and it was only through a major offensive backed by a Saud-led coalition last summer that the government was able to drive its fighters out of the province's main towns. The jihadists' entry into Loder and Shaqra on the 2 Feb 17 was helped by a pullout by government forces angry over the late payment of their wages, a security official said. "Our forces are also angry that they have not been provided with the weapons and other equipment to confront the jihadists, who have been stepping up their armed attacks," the official said. Al-Qaeda fighters set up roadblocks around the towns and blew up two security service buildings. Saudi-led aircraft carried out two strikes on jihadist positions in Loder overnight, the official added. Tribal sources said there were fears that the jihadists would now move on the provincial capital Zinjibar. Zinjibar lies just 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Yemen's second city Aden where the government is based. Al-Qaeda has taken advantage of nearly two years of fighting between government forces and Shiite rebels who control the capital Sanaa to entrench its presence in the south. Washington has kept up its long-running drone war against the jihadists but that has done little to dent their influence. The raid on the 29 Jan 17against the Al-Qaeda compound in Baida province was the first such operation of Donald Trump's presidency.