Gulf States – The Gulf Arab States are promising sanctions against the militant wing of the Lebanese movement Hezbollah due to its military intervention in Syria. Last month, Bahrain banned Hezbollah from the country, and the GCC foreign ministers were asked by Bahrain to discuss placing Hezbollah on the GCC terrorist list because of its involvement in Syria. It appears that there will be sanctions against Hezbollah. It is believed that the sanctions will consist of restrictions on residence, financial transactions and business dealings with known Hezbollah members.
Iraq – Iraqi authorities stated that they have uncovered an al-Qaeda plot to use chemical weapons. They were also found to have model aircraft that they would use as a delivery system and fly them over their intended target from a distance of approximately one and half kilometers away. According to the news channel al-Jazeera, it is possibly that the intended target may have been the Shiite commemoration of the death of Imam Musa al-Kadhim in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Kadhimiya.
In the February 14 361 Security Terrorist and Security Report it was asserted that al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) may, like the al-Nusra Front in Syria, may attempt to establish its own state within Iraq. Also, in the April 15 361 Security Terrorist and Security Report, it was reported that AQI and Jabhat al-Nusra were becoming more united. It is more than likely that these chemical agents originated from Syria, although the al-Jazeera report mentions that there were three workshops uncovered for manufacturing mustard gas, blistering agent, and sarin nerve gas. These chemical agents, even if homemade, would have had to have a chemical “template” to copy, as they cannot be made completely from scratch. It is also reported that AQI had intentions to smuggle the chemical agents to Europe and North America.
The persistent fear that Western governments have of chemical weapons falling into al-Qaeda hands now seems to have happened. The plot in Iraq is just one incident of Syrian chemical weapons potentially coming into the possession of militant groups; Israel bombed Syria recently as it believed that Hezbollah was being given a chemical weapon delivery system. It is useful to ask how many other militant organizations may come into possession of chemical weapons as a result of the Syrian conflict. AQI detonated sixteen chlorine bombs in Iraq in the period of 2006-2007, killing thirty-two Iraqis and poisoning approximately 600 others. There is a strong possibility of a similar attack in the near future in Iraq.
Turkish newspapers have reported that a unit of Jabhat al-Nusra had access to chemical weapons and had intended using them against the Incirlik Air Base, and in Gaziantep, a city near Turkey’s border with Syria. The Turkish government has not confirmed these newspaper reports, nor has it denied them. If these reports are proven true, then a militant group with an al-Qaeda ideology is already in possession of chemical weapons; the next best thing to a “dirty” nuclear bomb. There is also the possibility that Jabhat al-Nusra will pass on either their chemical weapon agents, or the ability to manufacture the agents, to another militant organization. If this occurs, it will bolster the ability of international militant Salafists to attack both civilian and military targets with even more deadly effect.
Lebanon – On June 3, a news report in al-Jazeera stated that an attack was made on the pro-Hezbollah religious leader Sheikh Maher Hammoud. Sheikh Hhammoud was walking to the al-Quds Mosque in the southern coastal city of Sidon, and while he was walking, a vehicle sped past him and opened fire. He was not wounded. Last month, 361 Security reported that Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria stated that they would target Hezbollah in Lebanon. Although no one has claimed responsibility for this attack, the assailants could possibly be from that group. Jabhat al-Nusra may have started its campaign against Hezbollah with this assassination attempt.
On June 9, it was reported that a Lebanese man had been shot in southern Beirut outside the Iranian embassy following clashes between pro and anti-Assad groups. It is not clear who fired the shot that killed the man. The Lebanese were protesting against the roles of Hezbollah and Iran thought to be from the anti-Assad March 14 political coalition. Due to the great controversy within Lebanon over the role of Lebanese parties, from all political persuasions, in the Syrian conflict, it is possible that Lebanon will be drawn into the Syrian civil war.
Syria – The imminent delivery of an advanced, Russian air defence system may make the Syrian government more confident that it can successfully repel future air attacks against its military and its installations. Israeli military aircraft attacked Syrian targets without hindrance from Syria’s current air defense system on May 13. The Syrian government reacted with rhetoric, but no action against Israel itself. Israel has responded by stating that if the anti-aircraft system is used against its air force, it will respond with more attacks.
Syria is also in discussion with Russia regarding a future purchase of more Mig-29 fighter planes. The Syrian government is concerned that it does not have sufficient defenses to stop Israel from entering its airspace, and is most likely also concerned anti-Assad international actors, such as NATO, will attempt to impose a no-fly zone similar over Syria that would be similar to that used in Libya. In past conflicts, Russian air defense systems have not done well against attacks from those countries that arm themselves with Western military equipment.
On June 11, two suicide bombers attacked central Damascus. Suicide bombing attacks of this are likely to increase in the near future. The rebels will most likely attempt to destabilize the city of Damascus in order to pressure the Syrian government. It is also possible, however, that misplaced suicide attacks in Damascus could reduce opposition support for rebels that conduct these types of operations.
Paul Ashley is the Senior Counter-Terrorist Analyst