Gulf States – Bahrain is asking foreign ministers of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to discuss placing Hezbollah on the terrorist list due to its actions in Syria. There will also be a discussion regarding the continuing Iranian threat after several countries recently have been involved in breaking up terrorist cells and spy rings from Iran. Iran will see this as a severe blow to its efforts if the discussions come to an agreement. Regarding Hezbollah, it is not sure whether they mean the whole organization or just its militia. The meeting will be held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The GCC consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Bahrain has already declared Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
Bahrain – On May 29, seven police officers were injured when an explosive device was detonated near the capital of Manama. It is unclear who was responsible, but the last report of an explosion in the country was prior to the Bahrain Grand Prix on Apr 13. The individual responsible for that attack was from the Bahraini dissident “February Movement.” Although police in some Bahraini towns are under constant attack from people throwing petrol bombs, explosions are rare. This attack may have been part of these nightly riots, but with the large amount of police that were attacked and injured this may have been a planned attack.
Bahrain/Iran – In a statement from Tehran on May 21, the Iranian foreign minister said he regretted the move by Bahrain to ban Hezbollah. The government of Bahrain perceived Iran’s influence in its country to be a security concern that would cause problems for the Sunni-led government. This will not sit well with Iran, which for some time has been attempting to gain an influence in Bahrain. Iran has also been accused by the Bahraini government for being behind recent unrest in the country.
In 361 Security’s February 28 Terrorist and Security Report, it was stated that Iran was currently behind the civil unrest in Bahrain. It was also reported that on February 17 Bahraini authorities had arrested eight people, some of which were Lebanese and had links to Hezbollah and who were accused of attempting to set up a militant cell in the country. Iran may have been using this latest attempt to gain entry and influence by proxy. In April 2013, the government of Bahrain declared Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Hezbollah is also a strong ally of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.
Iraq – The country has seen a huge increase in violence in recent months. As was indicated in the 361 Terrorist and Security Report for the Middle East on April 15, the Iraqi border with Syria needs to be tightly controlled due to the smuggling of weapons and other equipment across the border. It is likely that weapons and other war material are being supplied to the armed opposition to the al-Assad government and are being transported into Iraq, where it is fueling militant attacks in the country. There is also the possibility that Iran may be assisting Shiite Iraqis, but as yet there is no proof of that. With the continuing unrest and the apparent lack of leadership from the Iraqi government, there is a distinct possibility that the country is heading towards a sectarian civil war. At present, sectarian unrest and continuous attacks against both Shiite and Sunni areas is fueling militant activity from both sides. Currently, Iraq is experiencing some of its worst sectarian violence since the fall of the Saddam Hussein government in 2003.
On May 21, KGS Night Watch reported that Sunni tribal leaders called for an all-out confrontation with the Iraqi government or the creation of a Sunni autonomous region in the western governorates of Iraq. Prime Minister al-Maliki said he would consider the demand, provided it was done legally. This is not the first time that this idea has been raised. It did so when the Americans were in the country, but nothing came of it as the Iraqi leaders at the time did not want a three region country; Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center, and Shiites in the south. A government in Iraq based on three autonomous regions will most likely further destabilize the already divided country.
Lebanon – Over the reporting period there have been a couple of incidents where a group of armed men have attacked Lebanese soldiers. Three soldiers were killed by unknown gunmen at an army checkpoint in the eastern Bekaa’ Valley, and in February four Lebanese soldiers and two militant Salafist gunmen were killed. Although no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, it is possible the al-Nusra Front is responsible. This does not account for the unrest in Tripoli, which is between the Alawite and Sunni community which is probably a disagreement between the two factions as to who supports who in the Syrian conflict.
In a report by KGS Night Watch on May 29, it stated that an article from a Beirut newspaper made reference from the al-Nusra Front. The statement read:
“If Hezbollah is not deterred from killing our mujahedeen brethren in Syria, and if its members do not withdraw from the Syrian areas of al-Qusayr in three days, we will harshly respond in the different Lebanese territories, particularly in the border areas, al-Bekaa’, and Beirut's Southern Suburb, where the rejectionist members of Hezbollah are spreading. We will target markets, schools, public institutions, and parks."
This statement, coupled with the Egyptian jihadists’ threat to attack Shiite-led countries, could be connected. It is possible that the al-Nusra Front intends to take the fight to Hezbollah in Lebanon, in which case the conflict will not remain in Syria. Lebanon could become very unstable in the near future with al-Qaeda franchise militant organiations established very quickly to attack Hezbollah.
West Bank/Gaza – Over recent months there have been several reports of Hamas arresting personnel with Salafist jihadist connections. A report by The Long War Journal on May 20 stated that:
“On May 20, the Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center (ITMC), a jihadist media unit tied to the Gaza-based Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC), released a video from Abu Talha al-Libi, the sharia official of the Muhajireen Brigade in the Levant, to jihadist forums and their Facebook and Tumblr pages.”
In the video, titled "Fear Allah, O Hamas," al-Libi slams HAMAS' recent campaign against Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which obtained and translated the video. al-Libi claims that HAMAS has engaged in the torture and imprisonment of Salafist jihadists.
al-Libi asks what the purpose of the campaign is. "Is it service to your interests, or is it service to Islam and Muslims? By Allah, it is not service to Islam and Muslims by arresting the mujahideen and torturing them to protect the Israeli enemy," he says. He goes on to say that HAMAS' current actions are "not the way" of HAMAS founders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdul Aziz al Rantisi, both of whom were killed by Israel in 2004.
Later in the video it asks HAMAS to be at one with the Salafist jihadists and join them in the fight against Israel. HAMAS have been attempting to stop rockets being fired into Israel by militant groups, and has deployed its al-Qassam Brigades to police along the border with Israel with fixed road blocks and searching vehicles for rockets. HAMAS has warned Salafist jihadists regarding the firing of rockets into Israel and that they should cease doing so “without a general consensus” on the issue. There is a strong possibility that there could be a backlash from their Salafist jihadists, and that they will turn on HAMAS. The Salafist jihadists are clearly threatening HAMAS to join them but if they refuse then there will be repercussions.
Paul Ashley is the Senior Counter-Terrorist Analyst