In his resignation speech, Hariri referred "unequivocally to Iran, which sows sedition, devastation and destruction in any place it settles in." The Islamic Republic exerts influence in Lebanon through the militant Hezbollah group, but Lebanon is just one of the Arab nations where Iran has been expanding its presence since uprisings rocked the Middle East in 2011. It's dispatched Shiite militias from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan to fight Sunni groups and Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. It's also sent aid to rebels fighting a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Developments in Lebanon are "obviously a signal that Iran-Saudi tensions have worsened," Alef Advisory, a political risk advisory firm, said in an emailed note.
Tensions between Israel and Hezbollah have been intensifying as the war in Syria winds down. Israeli leaders have said they won't tolerate a permanent Iranian presence in Syria, and have said all of Lebanon's infrastructure will be targeted, and not only Hezbollah's. Much has changed since the sides last battled 11 years ago. Hezbollah fighters are both exhausted and experienced from years of fighting in Syria, and armed with far more sophisticated and numerous weapons. For Israel, a new war with Hezbollah would mean confrontation on two fronts, Lebanon and Syria, where the militant group has entrenched near Israeli lines. "It may be that Hezbollah, which will now be left alone to take all the blame and all the responsibility for Lebanon's challenges, would be motivated to initiate a conflict with Israel sooner as a means of unifying Lebanese behind it," said Daniel Shapiro, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and now a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
Turkey has become a major player in Syria, having joined the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State and sending troops across the border into Syria to drive militants away. But Islamic State isn't Turkey's only adversary in Syria: it's equally worried about Syrian Kurdish fighters whose territorial gains along the Turkish frontier during Syria's civil war threaten to embolden Turkey's own separatist Kurds. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his country will never allow the formation of a "terror corridor in Syria." "The tensions won't escalate into a military confrontation," Nader said. "But Turkey will continue to push to keep the Kurds away from Syrian peace talks so they won't be empowered in their claim for autonomy."
In Iraq, attention will turn inward once Islamic State is defeated. The nation's oil-rich north has already been destabilized in recent weeks by a faceoff between the central government in Baghdad and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government. After Kurds voted overwhelmingly for independence in a September referendum, Iraqi forces, backed by mainly Shiite militias bankrolled by Iran, retook disputed Kirkuk and surrounding oil fields from Kurdish fighters last month. "The military option is still there in Iraq," Nader said. "You have an unsatisfied Kurdish population and the Sunnis remain marginalized. You don't have a recipe for stability."
--With assistance from Jonathan Ferziger.To contact the reporter on this story: Donna Abu-Nasr in Beirut at firstname.lastname@example.org To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alaa Shahine at email@example.com Amy Teibel, Stuart Biggs
Da’esh – ISIL has lost further ground in Iraq and Syria as the armies of both countries and the Syrian opposition squeeze its forces. Late on the 3 Nov 17 Haider al-Abadi, Iraq's prime minister, announced the recapture of al-Qaim, the group's last stronghold in Iraq. Iraqi forces took full control of the city on the Syrian border after seizing the last border crossing held by ISIL, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group. They have been getting help from Sunni tribal fighters and the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a Shia paramilitary force. Just five months ago, ISIL still controlled vast expanses of territory, including major cities, on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border. Since then, it has been driven out of Mosul in Iraq and its self-declared capital Raqqa and Deir Az Zor in Syria. The fighters now only control a chunk of territory in Iraq's northwest, along the Syrian border. Earlier on the 3 Nov 17 Syria's army said it was in control of Deir Az Zor, the capital of an oil-rich eponymous region that was crucial for ISIL's finances. The campaign to retake the eastern city began in Sep 17 when government forces managed to break the three-year siege of the eastern Syrian city by ISIL.
Iran/United States – US President Donald Trump notified Congress on the 6 Nov 17 that he was extending the national emergency with Iran that has been in place since the 1979 hostage crisis. “Our relations with Iran have not yet normalized, and the process of implementing the agreements with Iran, dated January 19, 1981, is ongoing,” Trump wrote Congress in the formal notice. The Trump administration has vowed to confront Iran much more aggressively in the region, where it shares the Saudi view that Tehran is fomenting instability via a number of proxies in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen among other countries. Tehran denies the allegations. Last month, Trump decertified the Iran nuclear deal brokered by the Obama administration, leaving it to Congress to decide whether to reimpose sanctions. Events in Saudi Arabia in recent days appeared to open the prospect for a sharper confrontation with Iran and its proxies. Saudi Arabia accused Lebanon on the 6 Nov 17 of declaring war against it because of what it called aggression by the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. Saudi-allied Lebanese politician Saad al-Hariri quit as prime minister on the 4 Nov 17 announcing his resignation from Riyadh and blaming Iran and Hezbollah in his resignation speech. Also on the 4 Nov 17 Saudi Arabia’s air defence forces intercepted a ballistic missile fired from warring Yemen over the capital, Riyadh.
Lebanon (05 Nov 17) – Consequences of PM stepping down could be ‘heavy’ given deep divide between small country’s powerful Tehran-backed Hezbollah, Saudi-backed Hariri movement: Saad Hariri's resignation from Lebanon's premiership has raised fears that regional tensions were about to escalate and that the small country would once again pay a heavy price. Analysts said the Saudi-backed Sunni politician's move on the 4 Nov 17 to step down from the helm less than a year after forming a government was more than just the latest hiccup in Lebanon's notoriously dysfunctional politics. "It's a dangerous decision whose consequences will be heavier than what Lebanon can bear," Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, said. Hariri announced his resignation in a broadcast from Saudi Arabia, accusing Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of taking over his country and destabilising the entire region. Hezbollah is part of the government, but the clout of a group whose military arsenal outstrips that of Lebanon's own armed forces is far greater than its share of cabinet posts. For years now, Lebanon has been deeply divided between a camp dominated by the Shiite Tehran-backed Hezbollah and a Saudi-supported movement led by Hariri. "Hariri has started a cold war that could escalate into a civil war, bearing in mind that Hezbollah is unmatched in Lebanon on the military level," Khashan said. The rift in Lebanon's political class led to the assassination in 2005 of Hariri's father Rafik, an immensely influential tycoon who made his fortune in Saudi Arabia.
Investigations pointed to the responsibility of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah. Other political assassinations in the anti-Hezbollah camp ensued, then a month-long war between the powerful militia and neighbouring Israel, as well as violent internal clashes that harked back to the dark days of the 1975-1990 civil war. Twelve years on, Lebanese politics remain just as toxically sectarian and the threat of another flare-up very real. Hariri even said on the 4 Nov 17 he feared going the way of his father. His resignation came in a context of high tension between Saudi Arabia, once the region's powerhouse, and Iran, which has played an increasingly prominent political and military role in the region recently. On the 3 Nov 17 Hariri met Iran's most seasoned diplomat, Ali Akbar Velayati, before flying to Saudi Arabia and resigning from there via a Saudi-funded television network. "The timing and venue of the resignation are surprising... but not the resignation itself," said Fadia Kiwane, political science professor at Beirut's Saint Joseph University. "The situation is developing rapidly and we're at a turning point... there could be a deadly clash between Saudi Arabia and Iran," she said. "In that event, the two main camps in Lebanon will clash too." Over the past few weeks, a Saudi minister, Thamer al-Sabhan, has unleashed virulent attacks against Hezbollah on social media.
New war with Israel?
"The terrorist party should be punished... and confronted by force," he wrote last month. Other than just an internal conflict, analysts also do not rule out an external attack on Hezbollah, be it by Saudi Arabia directly or by the Shiite militia's arch-foe Israel. "Hariri is saying 'there is no government any more, Hezbollah is not part of it'... and he is thus legitimising any military strike against Hezbollah in Lebanon," Khashan said. Israel and Hezbollah fought a devastating war in 2006, and Israeli politicians have ramped up the rhetoric lately, warning that its military was prepared for war with Lebanon. Any new war damaging key infrastructure would have a disastrous impact on a country already weakened by ballooning debt, corruption and the demographic pressure from a massive influx of Syrian refugees. As soon as the news of Hariri's resignation broke, many Lebanese took to social media to voice their fears of a return to violence. "After Hariri's resignation, a war will be launched against Lebanon," wrote one of them, Ali Hammoud, on Twitter. On the streets of Beirut, even those who had little sympathy for Hariri expressed concern. "We're headed for the worst," said one shop owner.
Lebanon/Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia has accused the Lebanese government of declaring war against it because of Hezbollah's "aggression", further escalating an already tense situation threatening to destabilise Lebanon it was reported on the 7 Nov 17. The risk of an open-ended political crisis has loomed large over Lebanon's fragile stability since Saudi-allied Saad Hariri quit as prime minister on the 4 Nov 17 blaming Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah for "sowing strife" in the region. The unexpected move has also stoked fears of an escalation in the regional divide between Iran and the Gulf states, primarily Saudi Arabia, with Lebanon on the front lines. Thamer al-Sabhan, the Saudi minister for Gulf affairs, said on the 6 Nov 17 that Lebanon's government would "be dealt with as a government declaring war on Saudi Arabia" because of what he described as "acts of aggression" committed by Hezbollah. In an interview with Al Arabiya, Sabhan said Hezbollah was involved in every "terrorist act" that threatened Saudi Arabia. "The Lebanese must choose between peace or aligning with Hezbollah," he added, without offering any details about what action Riyadh might take against Beirut. There was no immediate response from Lebanon. Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, reporting from Lebanon's capital, Beirut, said the "strong language" used by Saudi officials was described by some analysts as "unprecedented". "People are concerned ... [by] the very tough rhetoric," she said. Hariri, a Sunni politician and long-time ally of the Gulf Kingdom, announced his resignation from the Saudi capital, Riyadh. His decision brought down Lebanon's coalition government, which included members of Hezbollah. "Lebanon is divided into two similar [camps]," political analyst Khaldoun El Charif said. "One is pro-Iran and the other is pro-Saudi, which means if things get worse it could lead to a confrontation between the two parties like what happened [in the past]," he added. "That is why we need to find a solution." But the constitutional process to appoint a new prime minister has been put on hold, with Lebanon's Justice Minister Salim Jreissati saying there will be no action taken until Hariri returns from Saudi Arabia. "We have been told by the president that we won't take any decision before knowing the circumstances of Hariri's resignation from the prime minister himself," Jreissati told reporters. Al Jazeera's Khodr said "it will be hard to find" a political figure to replace Hariri. "According to Lebanon's power-sharing deal, he must be a Sunni Muslim, and if internal stability is to be maintained he must be a consensual figure able to bring the rival parties together," added Khodr. "Clearly, the political crisis has now worsened and people are worried that it's going to be a prolonged political paralysis in the country." In a televised speech announcing his decision to step down, Hariri said he believed he faced threats to his life. He also called out Iran for sowing "disorder and destruction" in Lebanon, and criticised Hezbollah, which has members in government and parliament as well as an armed wing, for building "a state within a state". "I say to Iran and its allies - you have lost in your efforts to meddle in the affairs of the Arab world," Hariri said, adding that the region "will rise again and the hands that you have wickedly extended into it will be cut off." In response, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on the 5 Nov 17 called Hariri's resignation a "Saudi-imposed decision". "It was not our wish for Hariri to resign," he said in a televised appearance on the Hezbollah-owned Al Manar TV. "Even if he was forced to resign, the way in which it was executed does not reflect Hariri's way in dealing with things," Nasrallah added, questioning the text of Hariri's speech broadcast during his visit to Riyadh. In his interview with Al Arabiya on the 6 Nov 17 Saudi's Sabhan rejected that the Kingdom had forced Hariri to resign. "Talk about Hariri being pushed to resign is a lie and aims at distracting the Lebanese people," he said.
Syria/Turkey – Turkey is reinforcing the armoured columns it started deploying last month in the northern Syrian province of Idlib, the stronghold of an increasingly fractious al-Qaida-linked group, in what analysts describe as a phased incursion. The campaign to pacify Idlib, which has been coordinated with Russia, has been accompanied by a string of assassinations of jihadist commanders who have been unwilling to collaborate with Ankara, according to analysts and Syrian rebel commanders. Other jihadist commanders, eager to avoid an all-out fight with the Turks, have been negotiating both with Turkey and Russia. Seven Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) commanders have been slain in apparently targeted killings in recent days – the latest being the 30 Oct 17 when a commander by the name of Abu Ali Dumar was killed near the town of Ma'arat al-Nu'man. Turkish officials deny involvement in the killings and no group has claimed responsibility. An additional column of Turkish soldiers, along with tanks and armoured personnel carriers, crossed the Turkey-Syria border near Iskenderun on the 3 Nov 17. It is the third major Turkish reinforcement since the 22 Oct 17 according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a network of political activists, which says Turkey apparently intends to link territory it is carving out in Idlib with the buffer zone it established in the countryside northeast of Aleppo last year. The Turkish incursion in Idlib, west of Aleppo, appears to have a three-fold aim, analysts say: to contain Syrian Kurdish forces, considered a security threat by Ankara, from breaking out of their enclave of Afrin, adjacent to Turkey, thus preventing them from expanding deeper into the countryside near Idlib and Aleppo; to transform Idlib into a de-escalation zone, the fourth across Syria agreed to by Russia, Turkey and Iran at talks on September 15 in the Kazakh capital of Astana; and to reduce the strength of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, which controls more than half of the province.
Erdogan and the YPG
Speaking this past week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters Turkey is "in solidarity with Russia on Idlib" when it comes to de-conflicting the province. Erdogan, however, emphasized his goal of blocking the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) from expanding across northern Syria, and linking the Afrin canton with the main body of Kurdish territory east of Aleppo. "Afrin could present threats to us at any moment. Members of the separatist terror organization may try to reach the Mediterranean through the north by occupying Idlib," he said. Turkey will "never allow the YPG to expand its influence in the region," Erdogan said. Ankara considers the YPG, an ally of the U.S. in the campaign against the Islamic State terror group, an affiliate of Turkey's outlawed Kurdish separatist organization, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. The Turkish deployments so far have involved positioning troops in areas between Syrian rebel forces opposed to President Bashar al-Assad and the YPG. Turkish units have not so far been positioned between rebel militias and forces loyal to the Syrian president. Insurgent commanders told VOA that Ankara, now the main backer of anti-Assad insurgent groups in the area since the U.S. discontinued arms supplies to them, are being discouraged by their Turkish patrons from launching offensives against the Syrian regime. Further east around Aleppo, anti-Assad rebels are being encouraged to hand over their positions to Turkish forces that were deployed last year in an incursion that gained Ankara control over the Syrian towns of Jarablus, Azaz and al-Bab. On the 3 Nov 17 Nour al-Din al-Zenki, an anti-Assad rebel militia, said it had agreed to withdraw from some of its positions in rural Aleppo allowing Turkish troops to occupy them.
Syrian Kurds say the Turkish incursions are intended only to harm them; but, some analysts argue the Turkish operation in northern Syria is more complex. "Turkey's deployment of a measured force in a strategically important zone of northern Idlib may primarily be intended to project force on the YPG in Afrin, but it also introduces a new and public source of pressure on HTS," said Charles Lister, an analyst with the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based policy research group. In an article for the website War on the Rocks, Lister argued that while Turkey's Idlib intervention looks "like an entirely self-interested affair to contain the YPG," it is also "designed in part to be the first step toward weakening HTS." He notes that last year when Turkey launched operation Euphrates Shield around northern Aleppo, HTS commanders reacted angrily, withdrew from the area, and threatened to retaliate against Syrian rebel groups that collaborated with Ankara. This time around, Turkey's entrance has forced a more pliant line from HTS leader Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, who has been anxious to avoid a confrontation with Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel partners, Lister says.
That has aggravated divisions within the jihadist group. Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham has gone through several name changes. It was called Jabhat al-Nusra initially and has been plagued by internal disputes, often pitching al-Qaida veterans from outside Syria against Syrian-born members. There has been mounting public criticism of HTS leader al-Jolani by al-Qaida ideologues. In early Oct 17 a new jihadist group in Syria emerged from the disputes, calling itself Ansar al-Furqan Fi Bilad al-Sham, or the Supporters of the Quran in Syria. The breakaway, which has been strengthened by the arrival of al-Qaida veterans from South Asia and the Arabian Peninsula, has sworn allegiance to a son of Osama bin-Laden, Hamza, although it remains unclear how involved he is in its running. According to the U.S.-based jihad and terrorism monitoring group the Middle East Media Research Institute, Ansar al-Furqan has sworn to target U.S. interests primarily but in a statement released on the 10 Oct 17 two days after Turkey started its incursion in Idlib, the breakaway group said it was ready to fight the Turkish army. The string of assassinations in Idlib of jihadist commanders opposed to Turkey appears to be a covert campaign aimed at aggravating divisions within HTS, say political activists. The contents of intercepted phone conversations among commanders of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham have also been leaked and posted on social media sites, adding to disarray in jihadist ranks.
Yemen – Two suicide attacks hit security buildings in the Yemeni government bastion of Aden on the 5 Nov 17 killing five members of the security forces and sparking clashes, officials in the war-torn country said. The official, a high-ranking member of the security forces, said an explosives-rigged car driven by an Al-Qaeda operative blew up outside the security headquarters in the central district of Khor Maksar in Aden, where the internationally recognised government is based. Moments later, gunmen stormed the Aden criminal investigations unit and set alight files and archives, as a suicide bomber detonated an explosive belt in the building, a source in the unit said. The attacks spell an abrupt end to a period of relative calm that has reigned in Aden, where the government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi has been based since being driven out of the capital Sanaa by a rival rebel camp in 2014. Yemen's complex war, which pits the Saudi-backed Hadi government against former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and his Iran-backed Huthi rebel allies, has allowed Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to flourish in the south of the country. Yemeni forces allied with a Saudi-led coalition have closed in on AQAP strongholds in recent weeks, driving them out of pockets of the southern provinces of Abyan and Shabwa.
Yemen/Saudi Arabia/Houthi’s – Yemen's Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for a loud explosion in Riyadh, saying they fired a long-range ballistic missile that travelled more than 800km over the border with Saudi Arabia. A spokesman for the rebels said they launched a Burkan 2-H missile - a Scud-type missile with a range of more than 800km - towards Riyadh late on the 4 Nov 17. "The capital cities of countries that continually shell us, targeting innocent civilians, will not be spared from our missiles," the spokesman said. Al Masirah, a TV network run by the Houthi rebels, also claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter. Videos on social media showed smoke rising from an area near Riyadh's King Khalid International Airport. The official Saudi news agency SPA quoted Colonel Turki al-Maliki as saying that at exactly 2007 hrs local time (1707 hrs GMT), a ballistic missile was fired from Yemeni territory towards the kingdom. Maliki said Saudi forces used a surface-to-air Patriot missile to destroy the missile, which shattered into fragments in an uninhabited area east of the airport. He added that there were no reported casualties. Mohammed Abdul Salam, a spokesman for the Houthi rebels, threatened to escalate operations on the Yemeni-Saudi border and target deep inside the Kingdom. "The Saudis started the war. Our response will continue and increase, whether it's targeting deep inside Saudi Arabia, targeting military positions where Saudi jets fly from, or military bases inside Yemeni territory," Abdul Salam said. "Abu Dhabi and others that target Yemen, are as far as we're concerned, a fair military target. Any country that targets Yemen will be struck by our missiles." The war in Yemen, the region's poorest country, started in 2014 after Houthi rebels seized control of the capital Sanaa and began pushing south towards the country's third-biggest city, Aden. Concerned by the rise of the Houthi rebels, believed to be backed by regional rival Iran, Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Sunni Arab states launched an intervention in 2015 in the form of a massive air campaign aimed at reinstalling President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi's government. 361 COMMENT: As stated in the report the country is one of the poorest countries in the region and has suddenly found an ability to make, deploy and fire a long-range ballistic missile 800Km at a major civilian target. This is not just an escalation in the conflict, at some point Iran will overstep the mark and there will be dire retributions that will have sever effects within the Region. COMMENT ENDS
Follow-on Report (07 Nov 17) – Saudi Arabia/Iran – Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accused Iran on the 7 Nov 17 of "direct military aggression" against the kingdom by supplying Yemen's Huthi rebels with ballistic missiles, state media reported. "The involvement of Iran in supplying missiles to the Huthis is a direct military aggression by the Iranian regime," the Saudi Press Agency quoted the crown prince as saying during a telephone conversation with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
Follow-on report (07 Nov 17) – Saudi Arabia/Iran – Iran has rejected accusations by a Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen that it was involved in the firing of a missile that was intercepted north of Saudi Arabia's capital, Riyadh. In a statement on the 6 Nov 17 Bahram Qassemi, spokesperson for Iran's foreign ministry, said the claim of Iranian responsibility for the missile launch late on the 4 Nov 17 which was claimed by the Houthi rebels, was "malicious, irresponsible, destructive and provocative". "Yemeni response is an independent one and a result of Saudi Arabia's aggression, one which is not carried out or provoked by any other country," said Qassemi. "The Saudis, who have failed to achieve their evil goals during long-term military aggression against Yemen, are making more problems for their defeated coalition with a clumsy psychological operation to make baseless and totally false accusations," he added, before calling for talks between rival Yemeni factions to end the conflict. Qassemi's comments came shortly after Saudi Arabia condemned what it called a "flagrant military aggression by the Iranian-controlled Houthi militias" and claimed to have evidence of Iranian involvement in the attack on the 4 Nov 17. In a statement carried by the state news agency, Saudi officials labelled the attack a potential "act of war" and said: "Iran's role and its direct command of its Houthi proxy in this matter constitutes a clear act of aggression."The country said it would close all Yemeni ground, air and sea ports while it carried out an investigation into how the missiles were smuggled through to Houthi rebels. Riyadh has long blamed Iran for arming the Houthis. Later, in a statement posted on social media, Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also dismissed Saudi Arabia's accusations, saying Riyadh is "engaged in wars of aggression, regional bullying, destabilising behaviour and risky provocations". He said the Trump administration is to blame for the recent regional tension in the Middle East.